A $2 Drug Test Identified Bird Poop as Cocaine. But Law Enforcement Continues to Use it, and People are Being Wrongly Imprisoned

 

 

Do you need a hit?

Of that white powder?

That Columbian booger sugar?

I’m talking, of course, about bird poop (they have lots of birds in Columbia).

If so, you might get arrested — for possession of cocaine.

According to a Vice report, cops across America have been using the same type of $2 test to determine whether any given suspicious substance is the ol’ 80’s standby or other illegal doorways to euphoria.

And that test has come up positive when supplied with bird droppings.

Additionally, it’s interpreted doughnut crumbs as meth and vitamins as oxycodone.

Man — that’s making me want a dozen glazed meth.

In every case known to Vice, drug trafficking charges were eventually dropped, thanks to further testing by a state lab.

But the initial tests — known as “presumptive field tests” — have, as stated by Vice, “a history of being almost laughably wrong — if they weren’t putting people behind bars, even temporarily. And the follow-up lab tests that eventually clear people’s names can take weeks, if not months.”

During that interim, the article asserts, some who are innocent may be scared into accepting a plea deal rather than risking worse at trial.

Furthermore, those who can’t afford bail are stuck in jail as they decide which to do.

The article spotlights Cody Gregg, a homeless Oklahoma City man. He pleaded guilty, purportedly to get out of the city’s terrible lockup. He was charged with possession after a janky test identified powdered milk as Satan’s Snow.

The guy was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

It took nearly two months of jail time before he was cleared.

Claflin University Biology Professor Omar Bagasra insists, “You cannot indict somebody — put somebody in jail — over something you know has a very high rate of false positives.”

He knows a thing or two about it — he once partook in a Marijuana Policy Project study that determined a common field test wrongly identified spearmint, eucalyptus, and patchouli as the Devil’s Lettuce.

His research team pinpointed “the serious possibility of tens of thousands of wrongful drug convictions.”

To stress their point, the group repeatedly produced false positives before the National Press Club — from common substances such as chocolate bars.

As per a 2016 ProPublica investigation, the cheapo tests lead to thousands of arrests each year.

Fortunately, they’re frequently inadmissible in court, hence the follow-up in a proper lab.

But here’s how the little critters work: An officer drops a sample of something into a small pouch, then he breaks a capsule containing compounds which ignite a chemical reaction. A few moments later, your Kool-Aid Pixie Stick may have just snagged you a deuce in the joint.

The problems with the tests aren’t unknown to the powers that be, but they don’t always trickle down:

In 2000, the Justice Department issued guidelines requesting the tests’ manufacturers include warning labels telling cops that the tests could produce false positives and therefore require appropriate training. But ProPublica’s investigation found those guidelines were largely ignored. Newer, more accurate tests are available, but police departments don’t typically buy them because they can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

“If officers are not trained to get the message that a positive drug test is more equivocal than the label would make you think, you’ll have police officers thinking, ‘Positive means it’s definitely drugs,’” said Carl Takei, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s Trone Center for Justice and Equality. Instead, a positive result means that the presence of drugs can’t be ruled out but should be weighed with plenty of other evidence before officers proceed.

The pouches’ flaws were considered — to a degree — amid the arrest of aforementioned homeless Cody Gregg:

Oklahoma City Police told VICE News that the officers did weigh other evidence in Gregg’s August arrest for possessing the powdered milk that tested positive for cocaine.

For example, Gregg had a prior history of drug convictions and ran from police when they attempted to stop him for a missing taillight on his bicycle. Once they retrieved the backpack he was carrying, they found the clear bag of a “white powdery substance” and a scale, too. All of those things factored into his arrest — not just the presumptive drug test.

Tulsa County public defender Natalie Leone claims she handles a drug case with false positives about once a month.

One such was that of Calamitous Carl:

This past May, Tulsa police found one of her clients, Carl Fisher, with a glass container of liquid that tested positive for meth in the field. Fisher, who’s homeless, was asleep in a car in a residential parking lot when officers approached him with guns drawn because they considered the car stolen. They tased him multiple times and dragged him out of the car, body-camera footage shows.

Fisher was arrested on drug charges, resisting arrest, and assault on a police officer. He was behind bars for nearly two months on what was initially a $160,000 bail before state lab results cleared him. He then remained in jail until October, when he agreed to plead no contest to the charge of resisting arrest.

So we’ve learned a few things: Firstly, don’t sleep in strange cars.

And as for your wacky substances, you’re out of luck initially, if a cheap test points the wrong way.

You may need to bolster your case to the popo. So maybe keep those vitamin bottles. And candy bar wrappers. And that doughnut box.

As it turns out, Mitch Hedberg was wrong:

-ALEX

 

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