The Takeaway: Texas' Lax Civil Forfeiture Laws Make It Easy for Cops to Take Your Stuff

Yiliana Perez was midway through her shift at the Southwestern Women's Surgery Center when her boyfriend showed up. It was a surprise visit. He had dropped her off at the Greenville Avenue abortion clinic, where she works as a medical assistant, at 6:45 that morning, and he wasn't scheduled to pick her up until mid-afternoon. Yet, just before noon, here he was hurrying into the lobby, saying they needed to talk.

She took him into the employee break room and closed the door. He had "got into some stuff," he told her, but before he could explain exactly what, they were interrupted by a Dallas police officer who had walked into the clinic just behind him.

Perez didn't piece together the details until later. A half hour before, she learned, plainclothes Dallas police officers monitoring a parking lot in downtown Dallas had watched her boyfriend, Eliberto Deavila, and his friend remove a tailgate from a parked pickup, slide it into the bed of her 2005 Chevrolet Silverado and drive away. The undercover cops called in some colleagues in a marked squad car, who pulled behind Deavila as he drove north on Routh Street, passing under Woodall Rodgers Freeway toward Uptown. Deavila pulled into the parking lot of a Shell gas station on McKinney Avenue. The officers turned on their lights and siren, and he slowed as if to stop. Instead of stopping, though, Deavila made a break for it.

The squad car gave up the chase. Not knowing where else to go, Deavila headed north toward Perez's clinic, making a brief detour to stow the stolen tailgate in some bushes along an alley in a nearby subdivision. He was unaware as he walked into the clinic that undercover police had tailed him throughout the 10-mile journey.

At the time, Perez knew only that Deavila had done something dumb. It was hardly a surprise. Deavila had been arrested a couple of times during their relationship for car burglary. But his penchant for minor property crime aside, she knew Deavila as a decent man and loving father, to the younger kids the couple had together, and to the two he'd driven to school that morning, who were from Perez's prior relationship.

Still, whatever Deavila had done this time, it was serious enough that he'd led some very angry cops to her place of business.

"The first officer, he was so mean to me, yelling at me," Perez recalls. "I told him, 'This is my job. Can you calm down? This is my job. Can you just talk to me, tell me what's going on?'

"And he calmed down and then he's like, 'Well, we need the truck.'"

Perez needed the truck too. She had purchased the Silverado a few months before for $7,500. It was the family's only vehicle, how she got to work every day, how she got the kids to school. That morning, she, Deavila and her two older sons, 14-year-old Mark and 7-year-old Max, had piled in for the family's daily commute: a half hour from their home in Pleasant Grove to drop Perez at the Greenville Avenue clinic, then another 15 minutes to Harmony Science Academy, the North Dallas charter school her sons attend. Deavila would return with the truck in the afternoon to repeat the trek in reverse.

Without the truck, Perez would have no way to get home, but the officer was insistent about taking it. He told her she could either hand over the keys, which he said would allow them to tow it without causing damage, or they would tow it anyway and Perez could take her chances. Reluctantly, Perez gave him the keys. It was a Friday; worst-case scenario, she'd be able to retrieve the truck from the auto pound by the following week.

Perez and the kids caught a ride home with one of her supervisors from the clinic. She went to Dallas PD's auto pound in West Dallas over the weekend with the truck's title, proof of insurance and money to pay the towing fees. But she was told by an attendant that there was a hold on the truck, and that she wouldn't be driving it anywhere until the hold was lifted. She asked if she could at least fetch the family's stuff from inside — the kids' car seats, paperwork, tools, her son Max's Batman blanket — but the attendant said no.

"They're like, 'Sorry, can't do anything. The DA has a hold on it,'" she says. "And then I called [the district attorney's office], and I'm like, 'Can you please help me out. It's my car, not his. I just let him use it because he had to take the kids to school. I didn't know he was going to do that crime.'"

Still, the answer was no.

"I was devastated," Perez says. "I was crying."

That was 13 months ago. Deavila pleaded guilty to evading arrest and felony theft and was sentenced to three years in prison. He was paroled in February after serving a year and has returned home. The truck, by contrast, is still incarcerated in the impound lot, still on hold, still filled with car seats and a Batman blanket. And if Dallas police and prosecutors get their way, Perez will never get it back.

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Eric Nicholson
Contact: Eric Nicholson

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