Fourth Amendment

Court Hearing Raises Questions About Bust For Secret Car Compartment

How was a guy from Georgia supposed to know that empty space is illegal in Ohio?


The bizarre and terrifying case of a Georgia man arrested in Ohio for an empty storage compartment continued yesterday in Oberlin Municipal Court. Despite early reports, it's not clear why police searched the car for a hidden compartment. And it's certainly not apparent why an out-of-state resident faces charges and prison time over a peculiar local law that criminalizes…empty space.

As reported last week by Reason's Scott Shackford, Norman Gurley, a 30-year old black man, was pulled over on the Ohio Turnpike last week by the Ohio State Highway Patrol. Troopers detained Gurley while searching the car he was driving for narcotics. They didn't find any drugs in the car, but did find a secret compartment they say is used for transporting drugs—which has been a felony since 2012, and could land Gurley in prison for 18 months.

Not much happened in the actual preliminary hearing, with judge Thomas Januzzi binding the case over to the Lorain County Court of Common Pleas to be heard in front of a grand jury. But after the hearing, Gurley's attorney, Myron Watson, took time to provide further information about the case, leading to some surprising—or sadly, perhaps not-so-surprising—revelations.

First, police detained Gurley for several hours while they searched his car, according to Watson. This directly contradicts initial media reports that claimed police noticed the secret compartment right away: "Some really observant troopers noticed some wires running to the back of the car. Those wires then led them directly to a hidden compartment," reported WKYC's Erin Kennedy (emphasis added).

Second, Watson revealed that Gurley has "no criminal record whatsoever." His driver's license was valid, the plates on the car were up to date, and he has no history of crime—violent or otherwise.

These facts lead to the obvious question: Why did the police spend hours searching someone who doesn't have any criminal record?

Watson provided the answer to that question himself: "It was a questionable stop, to say the least. We believe there was racial profiling going on."

Adding insult to injury is the fact that the car Gurley was driving was a friend's, and that he claims to have no knowledge about the compartment.

Gurley has no criminal record, was driving a friend's car he didn't know could land him in a cage for 18 months, and given the fact that he lives out of state, had no knowledge about the eccentricities of Ohio law—though he surely is learning the hard way now.

And what of the arresting officers? Troopers claimed to have smelled "raw marijuana" but found nothing illegal in the car besides its secret compartment. They did find a misdemeanor amount of marijuana in the pocket of Gurley's passenger, but that was after they tore the car apart from roof to floor—after they found the secret compartment and made the arrests. If the smell of raw marijuana was so pungent in the first place, why weren't troopers able to tell that it was clearly coming from the passenger's pocket?

Unfortunately, I didn't get the chance to ask the troopers who made the bust because they left while the hearing was taking place. Something, however, tells me that I wouldn't have received an answer anyway, because the arresting officer, Sgt. Neil Laughlin, wasn't exactly the friendliest person in the world.

Norman Gurley meets with his attorney and Ohio state troopers
Ken Silva

Laughlin and another trooper were meeting with Gurley and Watson before the hearing, so I decided to take out my camera to photograph Gurley with the people who arrested him and impounded his friend's car.

"Are you with the press?" the sergeant asked with an icy stare.

"Yes," I replied.

"Can I see your identification?"

"Am I being detained?" I asked. This really got him going.

"No, but you're interfering with our meeting."

"No I'm not."

Laughlin looked at the court clerk. "Who is he with?" he asked, jerking his thumb at me.

"He's with the media," said the clerk. Two Oberlin College students sitting behind me started laughing. Laughlin muttered something and turned away.

My interaction to the sergeant must have scored me points with the defense attorney, Watson, because after the hearing he and I had lengthy conversation.

"When (Sgt. Laughlin) was asking for your ID, I was thinking, 'Where is he going with this?'" said Watson. I just laughed and told him I felt safe with a civil liberties attorney close by.

I asked him his opinion on secret compartment law, and he said it's a disaster waiting to happen.

"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 said. "There are all kinds of conceivable things, which aren't illegal, that people might want to conceal while transporting."

He and I talked about the facts laid out above, as well as the larger issue at hand: the right to privacy. Even ignoring the fact that the secret compartment law itself is a terrible policy, Watson said troopers shouldn't have had reason to enforce it anyway.

"This is a Fourth Amendment issue all the way," he said. "We're hoping that the jury will see that the officers didn't even have probable cause to search my client in the first place."

We exchanged phone numbers and shook hands before joking one more time about my incident with the trooper.

"C'mon, you of all people should know that democracy doesn't exist in the courtroom," I said.

"Yep, we live in a police state," he replied gravely.

Sadly, at least in Ohio, it appears as if Watson is correct.

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  1. “Are you with the press?” the sergeant asked with an icy stare.

    “Yes,” I replied.

    “Can I see your identification?”

    “Am I being detained?” I asked. This really got him going.

    “No, but you’re interfering with our meeting.”

    “No I’m not.”

    Laughlin looked at the court clerk. “Who is he with?” he asked, jerking his thumb at me.

    “He’s with the media,” said the clerk. Two Oberlin College students sitting behind me started laughing. Laughlin muttered something and turned away.

    You’re my hero Ken. Good job.

    1. Indeed. That was masterful.

    2. What he said. Outstanding job, sir.

      1. Dittos from an old “cops” reporter.

        1. I couldn’t do the cops beat today. There aren’t any more radio reporters left to separate me and the dickish homicide sergeants when the conversations escalate, as they always would.

    3. “Are you with the press?” the sergeant asked with an icy stare.

      Correct response: “Go fuck yourself.” NEVER answer ANY questions.
      ANY. Questions.

  2. Since most people on this site claim racism doesn’t exist. I guess its just good policing to always stop and detain blacks. Maybe in Ohio they use “future powers” to see that at some point in the future he would commit a crime so best to get him ahead of time.

    1. You don’t visit Reason often do you?

      1. He’s on the payroll.

    2. Claiming that “most people on this site claim racism doesn’t exist” is ironically very similar to the kind of profiling you’re talking about. Besides which, it hasn’t been my experience that people on this site claim there is no racism. Sometimes racism is claimed where there isn’t actual racism, and sometimes accusations of racism are used in place of rational argument, but I haven’t seen anyone say that there isn’t actual racism.

      In this case, your stupid trolling notwithstanding, there is something very suspicious about this stop. I would love to see a picture of the car in question. If it was a middle-aged white woman driving a Volvo I’m willing to bet none of this would’ve gone down.

      1. Who decides whether something is racist or not? You as the outsider or the person who is experiencing it?

        1. When everything is racist, nothing is racist.

          1. Nice. I enjoyed the Incredibles myself and I am pissed they haven’t released a sequel.

        2. Straw man: check. Goalpost shifting: check.

        3. I think everyone gets to make up their own mind.

        4. Interesting note about paranoid schizophrenia: Knew a fellow that had this problem, and he was always being persecuted by the police. Nevermind that the police rarely ever interacted with him; they were persecuting him anyways — because he thought so.

          But on the flip side of things, when the police were around, we was certain he would be targeted for persecution. And so would start to act sketchy. Which got him a lot of attention from the police he wouldn’t have gotten if he didn’t think he was being persecuted when he wasn’t.

          So when you ask ‘the person who is experiencing it’ there isn’t much to say. People far less out of joint than schizos are certain they’re persecuted when they’re not. Or encourage unwanted attention when they will be.

          The difference between being sane and deranged is whether you understand why this is. The schizo I knew never sorted it out.

        5. Who says racism doesn’t exist. The Revs. Sharpton and Jackson and the Attorney General exude racism.

          Were you on here posting about the white man who had his digestive tack searched several times against his will ?

      2. More likely than racism is that the police had a tip that this car would be carrying. Not long ago when the NSA scandal broke out it was made public that the Feds routinely tipped off local LE about large drug deals that they picked up. The LE interviewed said that they always came up with a reason for the stop and never said the real reason for the stop.

        There were some legal issues above my head because that put the DAs office in a position of withholding evidence from the defense.

        Next time you read of large drug bust due to a trivial traffic stop saying a license plate light was out, ponder the coincident for a moment.

      3. FWIW, based on the video in this news report, the vehicle in question appears to be a late-model Chevy Silverado pickup truck.…..w/3655713/

    3. MasterDarque|11.27.13 @ 10:12AM|#
      “Since most people on this site claim racism doesn’t exist. I guess its just good policing to always stop and detain blacks”

      Seems MasterDarque is lost; anyone want to give him directions?

      1. anyone want to give him directions?

        Will “go away” suffice?

      2. We’re the ones complaining about the NYPD “stopping and frisking” minorities, and everyone else.

      3. Sure, I will give him directions:

        Step 1. Bend over
        Step 2. …

        Oh wait. You send directions, I was giving instructions.

    4. Uh, yeah, no one claims that. People here often mock the refelxive cries of racism that have become so popular lately, but no one denies that it exists as far as I can tell.

    5. As most people here have already pointed out. You’re a moron. We don’t say racism doesn’t exist. We bitch about people crying racism at every perceived slight and THAT is what pisses us off.

      A little story for you:

      When I lived in DC, I had a particular co-worker that liked to pull the race card on people. She tried it on me once, just once. She was complaining about me not including her in a social event and said it was because I was racist. I got so angry that I almost punched her. Instead, I got real close to her and told her this. “I come from a place in Ohio where you would get pulled over for driving through certain neighborhoods. I come from an area where if you and I were to enter a bar holding hands, we would be denied service or worse. I come from an area where I have personally witnessed minorities heckled and had slurs shouted at them in restaurants. I have witnessed a black man being called “a stupid nigger” to his face. I have been called a “white cracker whore” to my face. I had a friend who lost his job when a new manager decided (and was open about it) that the whiteys needed to go. These are acts of racism. Not being invited to a party because you are a bitch is NOT racism.”

      I have seen racism. I have seen the pure hate that people can have towards a fellow human based on the melanin content of their skin. So when someone throws the race card because they didn’t get their way, it pisses me off. A lot

      1. I did say most and stand by it. Regarding people playing the “race card” of course there are people that cry wolf and I have never implied otherwise. I am sorry someone called you a cracker. I live in Great Falls and work in DC. I would be interested in knowing what place decided “whiteys” had to go.

        1. I still disagree with the “most” part. People make fun of racist claims around here a lot, but saying that they claim racism doesn’t exist is just inaccurate. I can’t recall even a single instance of someone saying “there’s no such thing as racism” or anything like it. If someone did, they’re idiots and should be ignored anyways.

          The cracker incident and the “whiteys gotta go” incident both happened in Ohio. However, I did work for a government contractor based in DC who’s entire staff (about 20 people) were all black and flat out refused to hire white people at HQ. When they visited the office I worked at, they complained that our office being 1/3 minorities still had too many white people in it. loudly and openly. Someone once tried to file a lawsuit over their hiring practices and couldn’t find a lawyer willing to take the case. They were told by many “there’s no way you’re going to win an anti-discrimination lawsuit against a black woman who has friends in Congress”

          1. Suing for anti-white hiring discrimination, are you kidding me!?!?! When are White and Asian people going to start getting preferential treatment on the pro basketball courts?! How do we expect ALL of “our children” to be able to grow up straight and (figuratively at least) tall, and proud, if they cannot realistically aspire to becoming a pro basketball star? All young white and Asian kinds must just resign to their dull, boring lives as non-sports-super-heroes?

          2. Well, I have claimed on multiple occasions that there’s no such thing as race. Maybe MasterDense is thinking of that.

            For clarification, I am utterly aware that race exists as a bullshit social construct. My claim is that there I no such thing as race in genetic terms.

            1. Well, I have claimed on multiple occasions that there’s no such thing as race.

              Haven’t you heard? Being colorblind is racist too, now.

              Seriously, though. I like the way you think. I also like the idea that we should all just fuck each other until we’re all kahki. I’d say that would solve the race problems, but there would still be slight variations of khaki to hate on.

              1. Yeah. Look at the Asians. To a mongrel whitey like myself, they all REALLY do look alike. But man, listen to the way they bash each other. The Koreans and Japanese are pretty much the exact same people, but they each think the other is sub-human. And don’t even get the Chinese and Thai going about each other.
                So, even after we all start looking just like each other, racism will still be around… or at least tribalism.

          3. I had occasion to petition my congresswoman back at the turn of the century. From what I could see, Congresswoman McKinney’s office was similarly staffed and loudly had no time for my white behind, an attitude perhaps enhanced by the presence of my wife. They didn’t appear to appreciate our ability to cross the racial divide.

            So I sent a couple of properly pigmented coworkers to take care of our business the next day. They received a much better reception.

    6. Racism is defined as the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, esp. so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races and/or prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.

      Given that, I don’t think this case could be considered racism as there is no evidence (based on the story as stated so far) that the officers that stopped this man consider him inferior. However, this does sound like a case of a black dude doing nothing suspicious (other than driving a car containing a passenger carrying a miniscule amount of pot in a state where the stuff will be legal for med use come Jan 1) was pulled over because he IS black which makes the fact that he was doing nothing suspicious, well, suspicious.


  3. They didn’t find any drugs in the car, but did find a secret compartment they say is used for transporting drugs?which has been a felony since 2012, and could land Gurley in prison for 18 months.

    Yes, and I have a fist that can punch your face. Gonna arrest me for that?

    1. Open carry of a fist? You lookin’ to get shot?!

      1. Nobody needs more than seven fingers.

    2. Why would someone who isn’t a LEO or a soldier NEED 10 knuckles?

    3. I am shocked they didn’t have drugs on them to plant in the car.

  4. Can I ask what counts as “secret” in a secret compartment? I mean could something hidden under the seat count? What about if a car manufacturer leaves an unused space in the car for some reason?

    This law seems designed to give cops a reason to tear apart private property.

    1. I think this only applies to aftermarket compartments. As for what counts as secret, who the hell knows? Probably anything the prosecutor wants to count.

      What a horrid law.

      1. What if you’re a diamond courier, like in that one movie? If you don’t have a secret compartment, you’re toast. And you could put anything in there.

  5. As an aside, the “Ohio State Highway Patrol” is one of the most overated, hype-up bunch of nothings in the country.

    Hubris and puffed up chests make up this group having probably one of the safest cop jobs ever.

    1. And when they do get killed in some traffic accident, they get a stretch of interstate renamed in their honor. So they got THAT goin’ for them.

      1. Someone should just thoroughly investigate the deceased – I promise with enough light on any normal person’s life, they will be found undeserving of such “honors”.

        & here I thought the NSA program to discredit people by revealing embarassing, but legal internet material wouldn’t be able to do anything useful.

  6. And it’s certainly not apparent why an out-of-state resident faces charges and prison time over a peculiar local law that criminalizes…empty space.

    Plain as the nose on your face. when the only tool you have is a hammer, et c…. Our noble law enforcement officers have come to see their fundamental mission as locking the maximum number of civilians in cages.

    1. To be fair, Ohio legislators should carry half the burden of your scorn here.

        1. The same John Kasich who is trying to pass a measure to keep the Libertarian Party from having any leverage in elections in Ohio.


  7. “Some really observant troopers noticed some wires running to the back of the car. Those wires then led them directly to a hidden compartment,” reported WKYC’s Erin Kennedy (emphasis added).

    Hard to believe she could get the cock out of her mouth long enough to say this.

    1. Some really observant troopers noticed some wires running to the back of the car.

      Really observant, huh? I don’t think she knows what observant means… as usually it’s not used when a person notices wires nefariously running to the back which exist in every single car… like wires for break lights, rear blinkers, reverse lights, rear speakers, amps, trunk lights, etc, etc, etc…

      I think she meant instead

      Some troopers, completely convinced in a driver’s guilt, but lacking any evidence, used wiring common to all cars as their “reason” to do what they planned to do when they pulled the car over. All of which ultimately demonstrated the troopers’ suspicions were wrong.

  8. I wonder is the stow n go found on minivans a hidden compartment?

  9. Black man with out of state plates? Must be a drug dealer.

    This is fucking nuts. What evidence to they have that he had any intent to use the compartment to smuggle drugs or that he even knew it existed?

    1. Driving a car that belongs to a “friend.”

  10. This only way to solve this is for all non whites to either turn white or get the makeup kits Eddie Murphy and Dave Chappelle used.

    1. Whiteface?! tsk tsk tsk. Check your priviledge.

  11. I have self-identified “very liberal” friends who think this whole thing is justified, because it’s the law, after all. Never stopping to question whether the law itself is flawed. Also taking at face value the cops’ assertion that they “found evidence” of weed during the stop, so it’s totally cool and everything and not worthy of “libertarian outrage” (as one person put it).

    None of my conservative friends on Facebook bothered to comment so I couldn’t gauge what their opinions were. But I can guess they would be similar to the “very liberal” opinions.

  12. “And it’s certainly not apparent why an out-of-state resident faces charges and prison time over a peculiar local law that criminalizes…empty space.” — OP

    You know, I find it rather hard to get my head around the idea that a Libertarian has difficulty with the idea that different jurisdictions have different laws. We can state, quite plainly, that it’s an absurd and unjust law. But we can hardly state that someone subject to those laws shouldn’t be subject to those laws given that they didn’t inform themselves about the law in that jurisdiction before violating it.

    But then, that requires that everyone have full knowledge of the law in all jurisdictions. And we’re all well certain that any single lawyer cannot understand all the laws in one specialized segment of one jurisdiction; such as contracts or taxes. Which opens up a larger problem: Can we state that ‘ignorance of the law is no excuse’ when not even the government licensed experts have any idea what the law is?

    1. Ignorance of the law is an excuse so long as it is the government agent who is violating the law. Lowly subjects, on the other hand, must always be fully aware of the whims of the crown.

    2. “what good does it do to read the bill if you don’t have two days, and two lawyers, to tell you what’s in the bill ” ?

      Congressman John Conyers D-Michigan admitting he didn’t read the ACA before he voted for it

  13. I am white, live in Ohio and have had the displeasure of being pulled over by a State Trooper. One beautiful sunny afternoon a friend tossed me the keys to his pristine 1980s Buick Grand National Turbo. “Just had new gas shocks and Michelin tires put on” he said, “Why not take it for a spin?” So he disengaged the kill switch and off I went. Nice car. Fast car. Stupid 80s speedometer only goes to 85mph I groused. Highway was clear, sun was shining, this car looks like it just rolled off the showroom floor. Just as I punched it there on the other side of a rise in the road the douche bag is waiting. This story’s getting long so let’s just say his ensuing behavior was such that if I were black I’d be 100% certain I was being racially profiled. But, unfortunately I’m white so I’m forced to call the incident, unfortunate. The jarhead ticked me off so bad for his uncalled for behavior even though I was guilty as sin I took the ticket to court. Prosecutor immediately dumped the no seat belt charge (it’s an 80s car the harness is on clips on the ceiling)! Lowered the speed to something a bit more, ahem, respectable. And, took off the points. I still paid a fine but felt vindicated anyway.

  14. is Ken Silva Popehat Ken?

  15. until I looked at the check which was of $4814, I be certain that…my… mom in-law could actually bringing home money in there spare time on-line.. there aunt started doing this for under 20 months and at present cleared the debts on their appartment and got a top of the range Ford Mustang. why not try this out


  16. Ummm….I’m sorry, but am the only one here who thinks wires+aftermarket compartment = Bass box (or if the car is old enough a CD carousal), he which was taken out a some time in the car’s past. I mean, why the hell would need wires going to a drug hiding place? So your pot can listen to the Dead?

  17. Sorry about the typing, I broke my laptop screen, am waiting for replacement, meanwhile using old lady’s which has a mousepad guaranteed to be hit while tyoing

  18. HA! Finally found the way to turn the stupid pad off! Now I have no excuse…

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