Miami cops were forced to return almost $20,000 to a stripper after they illegally searched the trunk of a vehicle she was riding in and seized the cash, prosecutors said.
The department has also agreed to pay legal bills for Lizmixell Batista, 20, who works at the Cheetah Gentlemen's Club in Hallandale Beach, and her husband Ras Cates, 33, amounting to around $3,000, according to the Miami Herald.
The couple were pulled over after they allegedly cut off a police car on May 25 in a Miami neighborhood. The cops found and seized six guns, and three of them were assault-type weapons, they said. They also seized the cash, and what they said was marijuana oil and many bottles of codeine cough syrup.
After the bust, police touted the arrest on WFOR-TV in Miami.
Miami-Dade Police Detective Alvaro Zabaleta said it was basic police work that led to the search.
“It’s amazing how something as simple as a traffic stop can lead us to crack a lot of cases,” he said at the time. “A lot of serial killers are behind bars because of traffic stops. These traffic stops lead to so many things in the criminal world and they are never routine. We warn our officers that there is no such thing as a routine traffic stop. You never know what you are going to get.”
Batista and Cates (pictured below) were charged with felonies, including armed drug trafficking. Defense attorneys for the couple, however, immediately found a problem with the circumstances of the arrest.
The couple's defense attorney, Jude Faccidomo, said the arrest violated the couple's rights.
“What is most disturbing is that immediately following the arrest, the department went on TV and engaged in incendiary speculation without knowing the facts or even acknowledging the rampant violations of my clients’ constitutional rights," he told the Miami Herald.
Prosecutors quickly moved to dismiss the case when presented with evidence of the cops' faulty arrest.
When he was pulled over, Cates got out of the car and told them he had legal weapons and a concealed carry permit, and he did. Also, body camera footage showed than even though the officer was friendly with Cates he did not get permission to search the trunk of the vehicle.
"Search of the trunk was illegal," prosecutor Johnathan Nobile said in a memo explaining why the state declined to press charges, according to the Miami Herald.
The alleged codeine and marijuana was also a problem, prosecutors said, because it wasn't clear who actually owned it and the liquid was never sent to a lab for testing.
As for the money, the Miami Herald reported that body-camera footage showed Batista told cops right away about her job.
"I was supposed to go the bank to deposit the money," she said in the video. "We got bills to pay, sweetie."
Cops seized $19,934, and said a K-9 named Roxie indicated the cash was near large amounts of narcotics. At a hearing about whether cops could keep the cash, one of Batista's fellow strippers, named Haley Heath, said Batista earned lots and lots of money from stripping. Faccidomo said cops should've known the money was from a strip club.
“I felt that the glitter on the seized cash was compelling evidence," he said, according to the Miami Herald, "but apparently the police department disagreed."
[Photos: Miami-Dade Police Department]
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