Cops in Florida searching unoccupied vehicles without warrant or consent


Sign posted at the Ritz Ybor Amphitheater in Tampa, FL

Matthew Heller is a Florida business owner with a company by the name of HornBlasters. He sells air-horns to folks who feel that their vehicle just needs more horn. He cruises around the Tampa area in a massive blue pickup truck with his company’s name emblazoned on the sides, and his namesake product wired smartly throughout for ultimate horn-honking capabilities.
Mr. Heller likes his horns loud, and his rap music even louder, so one night this past February, he hopped in his big blue truck and made his way over to the local music venue to catch a hip hop concert. Though no doubt confident that the implied threat of an infernal racket of horns going off if any alarm should be sounded would ward off any would-be car thieves, Heller had no idea who might end up snooping around his truck that night.

You never know what may happen in the parking lot of a rap concert at the Ritz Ybor in Tampa, but as Heller put it in an interview with local news outlet WFLA, “You think if anyone is going to break into your vehicle in Ybor, the last person you think, it’s going to be the cops.”
But sure enough, when Heller returned to his truck after the show that night, he found it ransacked and damaged, with a sloppily handwritten note from none other than the Tampa Police Department.
The scribbles read: “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.”
Any questions? Surely Heller might be curious to know why the expensive custom paint on his truck was severely damaged, or why the intricate array of wires used for his air-horn display needed to be savagely torn apart during what seems like it was a frantic search for weed.
Another question, exactly how much pot did they discover in their turning over of Heller’s vehicle, and what did they do with it when they found it? Well, obviously since Heller found a stupid note, and not a deputy, waiting for him at his battered truck, the cops found nothing.
Heller used the word “disgusted” to describe his feelings towards the actions taken by the Tampa PD that day.
He says that his rolling billboard for HornBlasters, the pride and joy he has sunk his life savings into, was unnecessarily damaged in the questionable search, with electrical damage so severe that the horns would not blast, or even beep, for that matter.
He plans to seek justice, hoping to have the damages and his lost time recompensed when all is said and done.
Whether he has a case or not depends on whether you ask Heller’s attorney, or the Tampa Police Department.
Tampa PD says, “While the search is legal, it is not typical.”
Florida-based attorney Bryant Camareno says, “It’s an illegal search”.
As Camareno puts it, and as Heller surely will contend, there were no “exigent” circumstances to lead police to perform a warrantless search of the unoccupied vehicle, other than the alleged aroma of marijuana…in a parking lot…at a rap concert.
Maybe a dead body slumped over a steering wheel, or even a dog trapped in a hot car on a summer day – these are legit “exigent” circumstances. Heller says he would have gladly granted the cops access to search the truck if they had only asked him for the right to do so.
Now, he is putting the Tampa Police Department and his own company on blast in the national media, hoping at least to capitalize on the uninvited, but always welcome, inevitable wave of publicity.