Tampa, FL — Rebecca Shaw, a mother of four who has never been in trouble with the law before, ended up spending five months in jail because a field drug test falsely identified her vitamins as opioids. Now, this innocent mom is making sure no one else suffers the same injustice.
Three years ago, Rebecca's car ran out of gas and she was stranded on the side of the road. When an officer pulled up behind her she was hoping that she would get some help. However, instead, she was wrongfully accused of a crime, kidnapped, and thrown in a cage away from her family for five months.
"My kids were devastated. I was away for five months. I cried constantly," Shaw told FOX 13 News.
Shaw is now suing the Pasco County Sheriff's Office and the manufacturer of the faulty drug test kit used to steal her freedom.
“This is a lucrative business for these manufacturers to be peddling their faulty products to law enforcement agencies. They're lucrative and they know these tests are not working," said Caitlin Costa, Shaw's attorney.
The original incident happened in September of 2015 and Shaw, not thinking that she was doing anything wrong, made a mistake and allowed the officer to search her car. When he did, he found vitamins and accused her of having oxycodone.
“He said, 'They don't look like vitamins. They look like oxycodone,’” Rebecca told Fox13.
The officer immediately ran a field drug test on the pills that he found and got a positive reading for opiates.
Shaw is one of many women and men to suffer horrific fates at the hands of negligent cops and their continued use of faulty field drug test kits.
In fact, tens of thousands have been convicted and served time — even earning the black mark of a felony — for crimes they likely didn’t commit, according to a report, because the cases against them relied on horribly unreliable field drug test kits.
So prone to errors are the tests, courts won’t allow their submission as evidence. However, their continued use by law enforcement — coupled with a 90 percent rate at which drug cases are resolved through equally dubious plea deals — needlessly ruins thousands of lives.
Rebecca Shaw is one of these people.
"My heart just sank. I said, 'That’s wrong!' It felt like my whole life was over. It was terrible," she said.
Rebecca was arrested and charged with trafficking oxycodone, and since she was unable to pay the $5,000 bond she was forced to sit in jail for months.
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"My kids were devastated. I was away for five months. I cried constantly. It was scary being in there and having a public defender that didn't believe me," Rebecca said.
After Rebecca's husband was able to raise the funds to bail her out, she had to wait another seven months for the official test results to come back from the lab, which ultimately determined that the pills were vitamins and not oxycodone.
"They’re putting innocent people in jail and ruining people’s lives," Shaw said.
Had Rebecca Shaw been falsely accused of trafficking these vitamins mistaken as opioids today, she could have very well been executed for it.
“It is a serious injustice and, again, as a taxpayer, is frustrating that our money is going to these faulty products," said Shaw.
“I think the time away from her children and the nightmare that she endured, it's what is motivating her not to crawl into a cave and be silenced and move on and forget about this," Costa added. "The idea that this could happen to someone else really bothers her."
Sadly, Shaw's story is extremely common and happens every day throughout the US. The standard $2 field drug tests, manufactured by The Safariland Group, have been proven to be unreliable. And according to the manufacturer, should not be used as a stand-alone test for convictions related to drug possession.
Studies have shown how everyday foods, spices, and medicine tested positive in field drug tests. In one experiment, scientists even discovered that air could set off false positive for these tests.
According to Forensic Resources:
"The director of a lab recognized by the International Association of Chiefs of Police for forensic science excellence has called field drug testing kits “totally useless” due to the possibility of false positives. In laboratory experiments, at least two brands of field testing kits have been shown to produce false positives in tests of Mucinex, chocolate, aspirin, chocolate, and oregano."
Dr. Frederic Whitehurst, a Ph.D. chemist and former FBI lab supervisor, has also voiced objections, saying that he has “no confidence at all in those test kits.”
According to the national litigation and public policy organization, the Innocence Project, at any given time there are an estimated 40,000 to 100,000 innocent people currently locked in a cage in U.S. prisons.
Over the years, The Free Thought Project has reported on countless stories of odd things creating false positives in field drug tests. We have seen people put behind bars for possession of things like drywall, glazed donuts, crackers, kitty litter and baking soda.