A video camera mounted on a telephone pole overlooking a purported central Toledo chop shop for more than four months was legal, a federal judge ruled, though investigators still should have sought a warrant before installing it.
“Given the uniquely intrusive nature of continuous and prolonged video surveillance, and the ease with [which] it permits law enforcement to evade ordinary checks on their ability to observe the daily activities of citizens, the far better practice is to apply for a warrant,” U.S. District Court Judge James Carr wrote in his order denying a motion to suppress evidence from the pole camera in the upcoming trial of Michael G. Wymer.
Wymer, 55, is charged with multiple counts of conspiracy, transportation of stolen vehicles, transportation of stolen goods, and theft of interstate shipments by carrier.
Federal prosecutors allege he was the head of a group that transported stolen tractor-trailer rigs and cargo from Michigan and Indiana to “chop shops” at 642 Sterling St. and 2322 Consaul St. in Toledo. The stolen goods were then either sold, cut up into scrap metal, or broken up for parts.
Wymer’s attorneys had argued that the pole camera constituted an illegal, warrantless search because it allowed investigators to see around-the-clock activity at Wymer’s business, S&D Recycling and Automotive on Sterling Street -- activity they contended could not be viewed from the ground.
Judge Carr said in his opinion that the video camera was not installed on Wymer’s property and therefore was not “trespassory.” The camera was not trained on a residence but on commercial property where there is “a diminished expectation of privacy.” The judge also said Wymer had not tried to shield the property from the public view.
“I find Wymer so completely exposed his property to public view to preclude his claim of a reasonable expectation of privacy in whatever activities he conducted there,” Judge Carr wrote.
Defense attorney John McMahon noted the judge’s reluctance to deny the motion, but said it was based on “the physical facts of the property” blended with the law.
In a related matter, Judge Carr granted a motion by U.S. attorneys to sever the trials of the remaining defendants. Wymer and co-defendants Robert Debolt, Jr., and John Debolt, are to go to trial Sept. 22, while the others — Terry Wymer, Gary Wymer, and Anthony Wymer — now are set for trial Oct. 6.
In requesting separate trials, prosecutors said many of the defendants had made statements implicating themselves or others. Citing what is known as the “Confrontation Clause,” they said they could not legally introduce statements made out of court by a non-testifying defendant if that defendant had implicated a co-defendant standing trial.
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