Video has surfaced of the controversial arrest of an Ohio man who was the first person charged under a new state law that bans “hidden compartments” in vehicles.
Law enforcement agents last year did not find the items they thought they’d find, but the man was handcuffed and put inside a cruiser anyway. A video recently released appears to show the man giving the officers permission to search his vehicle.
Some civil liberties and guns rights groups opposed the law, which is aimed at drug dealers. The Lorain County police officers were merely following the law, but the statute pertaining to hidden compartments in cars flies in the face of liberty and the concept of probable cause, critics say.
Ohio is one of five states with a law banning hidden compartments. Georgia, California, Illinois and Oregon are the others. The new law prohibits anyone from knowingly operating a “vehicle with a hidden compartment … used or intended to be used to facilitate the unlawful concealment … of a controlled substance.”
Georgia citizen Norman Gurley, 30, was charged with a felony after the Ohio police officers searched his car and found the compartment. Gurley had no criminal history.
The law making it a felony to add a hidden compartment with the “intent” of using it for any type of drug or human trafficking was passed and signed into law in 2012. Exactly how and who determines the intent of the hidden compartment remains unclear.
The ACLU of Ohio warned state legislature against passing the law, saying it is both an “unnecessary” and “unproductive” expansion of current law. The Buckeye Firearms Association ended up taking a neutral position on the bill after it was amended to allow the use of containers that are manufactured or advertised to secure valuables, electronics or firearms in vehicles. Any homemade compartments, though, apparently still could be illegal.
Story continues below video. Warning: Strong language.
Ohio State Highway Patrol Lt. Michael Combs said that Ohio’s hidden compartment law does have its critics but that the statute does help catch criminals involved with illegal trade. “We apparently caught them between runs, so to speak, so this takes away one tool they have in their illegal trade. The law does help us and is on our side,” he told WKYC. The station reported that Gurley’s hidden car compartment was “accessed electronically” and required a series of procedures be completed in the correct order for the “car hide” to pop out. False floor seats or taillights are often the areas of a vehicle reportedly used for hidden compartments.
According to Combs, the hidden compartment in his vehicle was large enough to carry several pounds of drugs. Local news reports stated that the Ohio State Highway Patrol officers detected an “overwhelming smell” of raw marijuana stemming from the vehicle and therefore had probable cause to search the car. Yet none was found.
Gurley’s attorney, Myron Watson, told Media Trackers that police were racial profiling.
“There was nothing that would indicate that he was otherwise breaking the law,” Watson said. “So we say that this is an issue of racial profiling because there was no evidence that I’ve looked at that would indicate that he was carrying or transporting contraband.
There are many legal items, Watson said, that someone may want to store in a secret compartment. For instance, legal guns.
“It is unduly burdensome, opens up people to harassment from law enforcement, and gives officers the right to damage property when searching for such a compartment,” he told Reason.com. “There are all kinds of conceivable things, which aren’t illegal, that people might want to conceal while transporting.”
What do you think about the Ohio hidden compartment law and the arrest of Norman Gurley? Tell us in the comments section below.