[embedded video and pictures at article link]
Innocent Georgians jailed over false positives from drug field test kits
By: Randy Travis
POSTED: JUL 09 2018 02:50PM EDT
VIDEO POSTED: JUL 10 2018 10:32PM EDT
UPDATED: JUL 11 2018 04:09PM EDT
DORAVILLE, Ga. - Innocent Georgians are winding up in jail -- sometimes for weeks -- because of a positive field drug test that ultimately winds up being reversed.
Law enforcement agencies across the country routinely use these $2 disposable tests as part of their initial investigation when they suspect someone has drugs.
But a FOX 5 I-Team investigative revealed how police claim those tests showed positive results for items that clearly had nothing to do with illegal drugs.
Cotton Candy. Goody's Headache Powder. Breath mints. Vitamins.
On their way home from a rare dinner out last October, Simon Cofie and his wife Clarice Doku were stopped by a Doraville police officer because he spotted a plastic cover over their license plate. Simon told us he bought the cover at an auto parts store because he wanted to keep his Dodge Charger looking clean and sharp.
According to the police video, the Doraville officer also believed he smelled a "little odor of marijuana." Simon and Clarice told us they do not smoke marijuana. None was found.
"If I don't find anything, you guys can go on your way, ok?" the Doraville officer told them. "If I do find something, someone's going to jail tonight."
Someone did go to jail, but just like dozens of others across the country, it wasn't because they had something illegal. It's because a field drug test wrongly said they did.
"I said, I know I'm innocent," Clarice remembered. "So whatever is going to come, I know I'm innocent."
Simon and Clarice are newlyweds trying to have a baby. Last year she was taking a popular vitamin -- folic acid -- in hopes of improving their chances. She said she put half the tablets in a plastic baggy so she wouldn't forget to also take them at work.
Doraville police found that baggy in their glove compartment and immediately put the couple in handcuffs, suspecting they were trafficking ecstasy. On the police bodycam video, you can hear the officers discussing those tablets.
"It does look like X though," remarked one. "There's no markings on it."
"She says it's folic acid," a second Doraville officer replied. "She bought it at Wal-Mart. She split it, putting half in here and half in the bottle when she's at work."
"With no markings?" asked the first officer. "Even vitamins have markings on them."
Actually, vitamins often do not have any markings. To check their hunch, Doraville police did a quick field test on those white tablets, using a NARK II field test kit manufactured by Sirchie, which markets itself as "the world leader in criminal investigation and forensic supplies." According to the Doraville police report, the white tablets tested positive for Ecstasy.
"We thought we were watching a movie," remembered Simon. "We knew that this is folic acid. A common vitamin."
The couple wound up in the DeKalb County jail for two weeks until their public defender could convince a judge to release them on a signature bond.
"I kept crying all the time," Clarice admitted.
"We've never been in jail in our life," said Simon. "And being there was like a different world to me."
By the time they got out, the damage had been done. Clarice's employer fired her for not showing up to work. Simon missed his swearing-in ceremony to become an American citizen. Five months later, the GBI Crime lab released its own findings on those white tablets: negative for controlled substances.
The case was dropped. Charges dismissed.
"Do you think these tests are sending innocent people to jail?" I asked the couple.
"Yes," they said. "And we are using ourselves as an example. We want everybody to know, whole country to be aware of this."
The FOX 5 I-Team asked the GBI Crime Lab for all negative drug test results from 2017. We then researched to see how many of those criminal cases began with a positive field test. We counted more than 30.
A man with a breath mint. Positive for crack.
A woman who insisted she had cotton candy. Positive for meth.
A teacher with headache powder in her wallet. Positive for cocaine.
All overturned by a more sophisticated GBI lab test.
So are the field tests themselves to blame? Or are the cops simply misreading the results? We collected many of the household products that law enforcement officers wrongly determined tested positive for drugs and used the NARK II kits to test for ourselves.
Carefully following the instructions on the box, each test we conducted came back negative, the solution not matching the color on the package that would indicate drugs are present.
Then we tested folic acid, the vitamin that Doraville police said was ecstasy. A positive reading would be dark blue or purple.
Our test came back with a color that could be seen as dark red or purple. Could it be read as a positive test? It all depends on how well a cop can see colors.
In a statement to the FOX 5 I-Team, Sirchie would not address our questions about the possible color confusion. "Our NARK presumptive drug tests are presumptive only. All samples should be sent to a crime lab for confirmation."
Each box carries that same warning. There is no mandatory training in Georgia for police officers to use these field tests.
Some agencies we contacted told the FOX 5 I-Team they would never make an arrest solely on a positive field test. That includes Phil Price, a retired GBI agent who has worked drugs since the 1970s. He's now the commander of the Cherokee Multi-Agency Narcotics Squad.
"There's nothing that's 100 percent accurate that I would stake my life," he pointed out. "Certainly wouldn't stake sending somebody to jail."
As for Simon and Clarice, you might think life is back to normal now. But even dismissed charges will haunt you. When we ran a background check on Clarice, we found her arrest on drug trafficking charges.
She says no fulltime employer will hire her now. All because of a bag of vitamins, and a test some cops clearly trust way too much.
"We believe that America is an advanced country," Simon explained. "This should not be happening. It's putting a lot of people in trouble."
from the abyss
I hope Simon and Clarice get rich and a Doralville cop goes to jail.
"How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy." Winston Churchill
|Step by step walk the thousand mile road|
Sadly that won't happen.
Nice is overrated
"It's every freedom-loving individual's duty to lie to the government."
Airsoftguy, June 29, 2018
|Just because you can, |
doesn't mean you should
Many decades ago I lived in that area.
Policing for dollars was normal.
How did the cop get into the car? Why did they consent to a search or what PC did he have? Does claiming to smell pot constitute PC for a search or just RAS to get a sniffer dog to come to the scene while couple are detained?
I’ve had a few false positives over the years. One time involved a dumbass that had packaged up chunks of soap to look like crack cocaine (as a joke) that tested positive due to some additive in it. Lucky for him he had good ID, and our agency has a cite and release policy at our discretion. The lab result was negative, and the citation was voided.
"A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week." George S. Patton
People do that all the time, even when they know they have something that will get them arrested. Innocent people are even more likely to consent.
And not that it’s a guarantee, but any medication or something similar that looks like it might be a drug should be kept in its original container and not transferred to a baggie. That is sometimes even mandated by state law. That doesn’t excuse what happened, but sometimes we have to look after our own interests as much as we can.
“I can’t give you brains, but I can give you a diploma.”
— The Wizard of Oz
Yes, I know. That's why I don't have much sympathy. No good can ever come from consenting to a search. I would think the man, just about to become a US citizen, would have Amendments 4 and 5 fresh in his mind.
In my experience even most people who know about the Amendments do not really understand their implications. I doubt that their citizenship classes include “How not to cooperate with the police and avoid going to jail because of their screwups” discussions.
“I can’t give you brains, but I can give you a diploma.”
— The Wizard of Oz
What typically happens if one doesn't consent to a search in a situation like this?
Well, they're surely not going to just roll over and let you go. But at least you'd have a basis for challenging the grounds for the search in the event they found something. Once you consent, you can't claim it was a bad search. And unless you drove your car away from the factory assembly line and no one else has been in it, there's no telling what a search could bring up, which is why you should never consent to one.
How was the person jailed for 2 weeks over what they thought was half of ONE excstacy pill. That should be a very easy cheap bond and the person should be out in one day? This sentence really doesn't make any sense.
|Just because you can, |
doesn't mean you should
You've never been to Doraville.
Not questioning you, but who in the heck does that? If I'm going out to eat and will be taking my evening med (not narcotic) I sure as heck don't take the entire bottle of 90 with me. One goes in a small pill size ziplock in my pocket. I guess if a cop wants to be a total ass he can arrest me for having a metformin out of the bottle instead of looking up the tablet on his computer.
Agreed. That jumped out to me as sounding strange. I suppose a charge of drug trafficking was made while they were adding every charge they could come up with in the hopes of making something stick. Otherwise, how is that charge justified?
I hope someone makes these people aware that they can apply to get the arrest records expunged- it's called "record restriction" in Georgia. This situation (dismissal/non-conviction) seems to allow for qualification from a quick search.
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There are exceptions to all rules, cars have a less of a bright line requirement than searching a home or your office....and many states have more relaxed rules than others do
But the story outlines where the cop thought he smelled marijuana....that right there is probable cause for a search anywhere marijuana can be secreted....thus the discovery of the unlabeled pills.
silly on her part to store pills in a sandwich bag, not illegal mind you, but foolish. The container would have gone a longggg way to establishing they were folic acid.
When dealing with the public its real easy to figure out when people are lying...but the cops also have laptops in their cars and they can quickly checks a persons' history...has the cop or any of his partners ever dealt with the subjects in the story?
and i get it, and i agree, some cops are dicks and on power trips....i know-i worked with a few over the years.
its just sad that someone got hemmed up for a false positive of a field test.
"Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than has any other factor.”
― Robert A. Heinlein, Starship Troopers
|Do No Harm,|
Do Know Harm
I was never one to trust those things. They had a purpose though. Anytime I wasn’t sure, I’d get their info and send it to the lab.
With the fentanyl scare we don’t use test kits at all now. Once I was arresting a guy for a warrant and during the process found what looked exactly like a good sized crack rock. Well because of the new policy of dealing with narcotics I wasn’t even allowed to pick it up to examine it. Had to call CSI out. The guy had quite a history of trafficking cocaine, so he wore the possession charge.
The shit came back from the lab as freaking deodorant. I met with the DA and had the charges dropped. It can happen.
Knowing what one is talking about is widely admired but not strictly required here.
Although sometimes distracting, there is often a certain entertainment value to this easy standard.
"All I need is a WAR ON DRUGS reference and I got myself a police thread BINGO." -jljones
It wasn't half of one pill, it was half of the bottle of pills.
So what? It's F'n vitamins!!
Manufacturers warn that those tests are not conclusive. This is a training and policy problem.
CMSGT USAF (Retired)
Chief of Police (Retired)
Florida Class K Licensed Instructor
NRA Certified LE Handgun/Shotgun/Rifle Instructor
SIG and Glock and Springfield 1911 Armorer
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