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Cops trash parked truck, then tell innocent owner they were looking for drugs

Published time: June 09, 2014 19:56
AFP Photo / Gerardo Mora

AFP Photo / Gerardo Mora

Police in Tampa, Florida on the hunt for marijuana are facing criticism after officers reportedly raided a parked truck while the owner was not present – a search that damaged the vehicle and revealed no drugs.

Local businessman Matthew Heller was enjoying a concert in the Ybor neighborhood when the incident took place. By the time he returned to his car – which is also used to advertise his business – Heller found it broken into, with electronics ripped out and other parts damaged.

Asked how he felt when he saw his truck, Heller didn’t mince words with local NBC affiliate WFLA, saying he was “disgusted.”

“I’ve got my whole life savings in this truck,” he added. “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.”

Police had no search warrant when they searched the vehicle. In fact, the only reason Heller knew it was police who raided his car, and not a burglar, was that the officers involved left a note behind on a 2x3 piece of paper.

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

The search left Heller with stumped, as he wondered how police pinpointed his vehicle when various smells were coming from numerous places. Heller is now seeking reimbursement from police for the damages caused to his truck.

According to WFLA, police did not find any marijuana in their search, nor did they arrest Heller or question him. The Tampa Police Department defended the search as legal, but added such behavior is “not typical” and that it is “reviewing the specifics of this investigation."

Attorney Bryant Camareno, however, did not agree.

“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.”