Prince George's County, MD — An infuriating video was uploaded to Facebook this week showing police officers laying waste to the rights of an innocent man. When the innocent man, Troy Ray, confronted these officers, they proceeded to tell him they had the right to search his car with no warrant and no probable cause.
As the video begins, Ray is walking up on the scene with several police officers parked in the road. Ray finds that his door to his car is wide open and police have been rummaging through his things.
"Why did y'all go in my car officer?" asks Ray.
"To check and see if there was any contraband in there," replied the officer as if what he had just done was okay.
"Who authorized you?" Ray asks. "Who authorized you to go in my car? I wasn't even here to authorize you to go in my car."
"Your car is on public property," states the officer again, trying to assert that this somehow gives him the right to violate a person's 4th Amendment right.
"But you didn't ask me to go in my car," Ray says.
"I don't have to," says the officer, and he is right. Certain legal factors allow police to search a person's vehicle without permission and without a warrant. Although none of these factors were present for these officers to begin searching Ray's vehicle, this will likely not stop them from claiming as much.
For an officer to enter a person's vehicle without a warrant is a clear violation of the citizen's Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unlawful and unreasonable searches and seizures by so-called authorities—in most cases. However, because of the mobile nature of vehicles, there is an "automobile exception" to the search warrant requirement. Essentially, US citizens have less of an expectation of privacy while driving a motor vehicle as it is in public.
Under the following circumstances, police can and most likely will search your car:
- You have given the officer consent.
- The officer has probable cause to believe there is evidence of a crime in your vehicle.
- The officer reasonably believes a search is necessary to their own protection (a hidden weapon, for example).
- The officer has a valid search warrant.
- You have been arrested and the search is related to that arrest (such as a search for illegal drugs).
As is clearly illustrated in the video below, Ray never gave police consent to search his vehicle, so, the first circumstance is not applicable.
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The last two are also not applicable because police had no warrant and Ray was not under arrest.
What is most likely going to happen in this case is that the officers involved in these searches are going to claim they had probable cause to believe there was evidence of a crime in Ray's vehicle. Or, they will claim that the officer "reasonably believes a search is necessary to their own protection (a hidden weapon, for example)."
Indeed, as the video progresses the officer attempts to tell Ray that he had every right to search his vehicle for this very reason.
"You left your windows down on public property," states the officer. "I had to check to see if there was any contraband in your vehicle that the general public could get to."
Here is where the officer messed up. Had he said he reasonably believed he saw contraband inside Ray's vehicle, he would've possibly been able to justify this abuse. However, he stated that he "had to check" if there was contraband.
Even in automobiles, the 4th Amendment guarantees the right to be free from cops "checking" you without probable cause. Had they simply looked in the windows and seen what anyone else could see from the road, they would've been well within the law.
However, according to Ray, these officers didn't just stop at looking in windows, they opened his doors and looked all through his car—a violation indeed.
As Ray is perplexed by the idea that cops can search his vehicle with no warrant, he asks another cop who tells him to "shut the fuck up and listen," just before he threatens to arrest him for asking questions.
He then goes to another cop who demands he stop filming. Apparently, Ray had found a group of police in Prince George who completely forgot the oaths they swore to uphold the constitution.
The Free Thought Project contacted Troy Ray and the Prince Georges police department to ask them about this incident, however, we have yet to hear back.
If you'd like to voice your concern over the Prince George's police department searching the vehicles of innocent citizens without probable cause, you can do so at their Facebook page, here.
Update: the Prince George's police department released the following statement in regard to the video above. They claim that Ray was illegally parked and that his car was being impounded. However, none of the officers mentioned that on video.
The Prince George's County Police Department wants our community to know that we are aware of a video released on Facebook and we are very concerned about the language used by one of our officers in that video. We have launched an internal affairs investigation which is ongoing. However, what has been described by many on social media as an "illegal search" of a car, was, in fact, a legal inventory of a vehicle that was about to be impounded for blocking the roadway. Preliminarily, here are the facts as we understand them. This is a three-minute video segment of what was actually an 83-minute long call for service. Late Friday evening into early Saturday morning, there were repeated calls from citizens for police to respond to a neighborhood in Landover for a large group of people "drinking, smoking, and playing loud music in the street." Once officers arrived on scene, again, at approximately 1:00 AM, a group of individuals scattered and our officers discovered two cars were left unattended, unsecured, and were blocking the street. With regards to the vehicle in this video, officers were unable to identify the legal owner on scene and no one would take responsibility for moving it out of the roadway so they were left with no option other than to impound the vehicle. Officers entered the vehicle because Volume II, Chapter 33 of our General Orders on "Impounds & Vehicles" states that officers must list inventory and note condition of the vehicle prior to towing and impound. The vehicle in this video was towed. As far as the officer who is witnessed on the video using profanity when speaking with the citizen, that is of grave concern to us and that interaction is under investigation. The three-minute video as well as the additional 80 minutes of the call are all under investigation.