Police puts homeowners on streets following drug charge
PHILADELPHIA -- Imagine. Someone in your home is arrested on drug charges, then police seize your house. It happened to one Philadelphia family, and thanks to civil forfeiture law it's legal.
For eight years Christos Sourovelis has been working on his family's dream house in the suburbs of Philadelphia. \"I built this house with my own hands. I'm a working guy. I work everyday, six days a week, seven days if I have to.\"
Without warning, Sourovelis says Philadelphia police and prosecutors seized his house. He and his wife, Markela, have never been charged with a crime or even accused of wrongdoing. Police showed up at the Sourovelis house in March, and arrested 22-year-old Yianni Sourovelis. Prosecutors claimed Yianni was selling drugs out of the house.
Police returned a month and a half later armed with a lawsuit against the house itself. It was being forfeited and transferred to the custody of the Philadelphia District Attorney.
Christos told police the house belonged to him, and has nothing to do with his son. That didn't matter to police and prosecutors who kicked them and their children out that day.
In just two years, nearly 500 families in Philadelphia had their home or cars seized by city officials. The city is using the civil forfeiture law, which allows them to seize personal property connected to illegal drugs. Unlike a standard criminal forfeiture, the civil law allows the seizure of property without criminal charges or a conviction.
When the Sourovelis family showed up for court, there was no judge. They arrived to face a prosecutor from the district attorney's office who had the family sign papers banning their son from the house. The family is still fighting the city to resolve their case and keep their home.