Judge drops chop-shop case

Wednesday, February 14th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

JAY, Okla. (AP) -- Officers conducted an unconstitutional search of a marina owner's business, a Delaware County judge ruled in dismissing 54 counts of violating Oklahoma's chop-shop law.

Frankie Howerton, 39, was arrested in September 1998 after authorities raided his business, Frankie's Marina.

In dismissing the case Tuesday, District Judge Robert Haney said that no matter how many times Howerton consented, officers still didn't have the right to search.

Howerton was charged with one count of owning and operating a chop-shop, 47 counts of possession of a vessel, motor, vessel part or motor part with serial numbers removed or altered, and six counts of knowingly concealing stolen property.

Haney stated in his order that although Howerton was informed by officers with the Oklahoma Highway Patrol and the Grand River Dam Authority that it was an administrative inspection -- and that the search was stopped when officers found several motors and parts with missing or defaced serial numbers and a Nitro boat that had been reported stolen -- the search did not meet all the tests required under the Fourth Amendment.

Assistant District Attorney Kathy Baker said she will ask the state Court of Criminal Appeals to overturn Haney's decision. "We believe the ruling was wrong," Baker said.