Cops with no warrant ransack and damage businessman’s truck in concert parking lot; leave note

matthewheller0608A Florida man might have thought he needed the cops after leaving a concert to find his work truck broken into and the insides ransacked.

Then he saw the note from the Tampa Police Department cops who’d done the deed.

Sir, your car was checked by TPD K-9. The vehicle was searched for marijuana due to a strong odor coming from the passenger side of the vehicle.  Any questions call Cpl Fanning.”

Businessman Matthew Heller actually had a few questions. For starters, how could a police dog alert to the smell of marijuana coming from a truck that’s elevated three feet from the ground.

And how could cops be so sure the smell was coming from his truck when it was parked outside a concert by hip-hop Juicy J – a venue where the smell of weed isn’t exactly uncommon.

“Disgusted, I’ve got my whole life savings in this truck,” Heller told WFLA. ”It’s like a marketing tool for my business to promote the air horns and everything. The horns weren’t working, all the electronics were ripped out,” said Heller.

A spokesman for the Tampa PD acknowledged officers had searched Heller’s truck during the February incident, but maintained the search was legal – that officers didn’t need a warrant.

Attorney Bryant Camareno says that’s dead wrong.

ransack0608
Photo: WFLA
Wires were damaged during a police search of a businessman’s truck on suspicion of marijuana.

“It’s an illegal search,” Camareno told WFLA. “Usually if it’s some kind of unoccupied vehicle there has to be some level of exigent circumstance to justify searching a vehicle without a search warrant. Exigent could mean if there is a dead body inside, if there is a screaming child locked in the car, a dog but if the car is unoccupied there is no exigency to justify the search.”

A police dog smelling what could be marijuana, outside a hip-hop concert, doesn’t sound like it qualifies as an emergency.

And cops leaving a note on a piece of scratch paper – not business card, no paper with letterhead —  doesn’t sound like a good community relations move for the Tampa PD.

But the big questions Heller has are, is he going to get reimbursed for the search, and how did this happen in the first place?

“I am out for the damages and my time but mostly I’m scratching my head and kind of confused with everything,” he said. “I had no clue this was something that could happen.”

Check out WFLA’s report here.

WFLA News Channel 8

CORRECTION: The original version of this post incorrectly identified Bryant Camareno as Matthew Heller’s attorney. Heller is being represented by Dominic Fariello.

Joe Saunders

Joe Saunders, a 25-year newspaper veteran, is a staff writer and editor for BizPac Review who lives in Tallahassee and covers capital and Florida politics. Email Joe at [email protected].

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