HomeNewsD.A. drops forfeiture case against Somerton couple

D.A. drops forfeiture case against Somerton couple

The District Attorney’s office will no longer go after the home of a Somerton couple whose son was arrested on drug charges earlier this year.

Attorneys for Christos and Markela Sourovelis said the decision is a victory for the couple, who are among plaintiffs in a federal class action suit aimed at shutting down the DA’s forfeiture unit. They want the city’s forfeiture process declared unconstitutional.

Darpana Sheth, an attorney with the Virginia-based Institute for Justice, which is representing the couple in their federal suit, said she was happy the DA made the announcement. But she said the couple’s suit will continue.

“Philadelphia law enforcement continues to use its system of roboforfeitures to pad its budgets with millions in unaccountable funds by stripping innocent people of their rights and property,” she stated in a Dec. 18 news release.

Civil forfeiture allows law-enforcement agencies to take away property that is used in the commission of a crime. The idea is to keep that property away from those criminals.

In the case of the Sourovelises, the DA went after their Ferndale Street house because their son, who lived with them, was accused of selling drugs in March. The DA began forfeiture proceedings in May.

The DA’s office said the decision to now not pursue the Sourovelis forfeiture case should not be viewed as a win for the couple.

“The truth is that we resolve most of our real estate forfeiture actions by agreement, just as we are doing here, and we have been doing that since long before this lawsuit was filed. We do it because the purpose of the forfeiture process is to protect public safety and relieve neighborhoods of rampant drug dealing,” the DA’s office stated.

Forfeiture is pursued, the DA’s office said, in the small number of cases in which an owner makes no attempt to stop drug dealing on his or her property.

“In most other cases, however, the owner is able to provide reasonable assurance that he will prevent further drug activity. In that event, the forfeiture petition is withdrawn by agreement,” according to the DA’s office. “That is all that happened in this case. The owners’ son was arrested for selling heroin from the house. When police came to arrest him at the house, they recovered heroin there, as he was trying to flush it down the toilet. The son was charged and is participating in a drug treatment program.

“The owners have signed an agreement certifying that they will take all reasonable measures to make sure that their neighborhood is no longer subjected to the offenses previously perpetrated. As the owners are well aware, if they fail in their promises, the proceedings may be renewed.”

In August, the Sourovelises told the Northeast Times that they had no idea their son, Yianni, had sold drugs, were not involved and that no drug sales had been done from their home. They said police in March found heroin worth about $40 in a bathroom when they came to their house on the 12000 block of Ferndale Street to arrest their son, and that police threatened to shoot their pet pit bull.

In May, after their son already had entered a diversionary court program and had been in a drug rehabilitation program, the couple said representatives of the DA’s office told them their home was being seized and that they had to leave. To get back in a week later, Christos said, they had to sign an agreement that their son could not live in their Ferndale Street home. They agreed, but said they wanted to get their son back in their home so they could help with his recovery. ••

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