Fort Chaffe, AR -- On May 8 of this year, Gale Griffin and her husband Wendall Harvey, who've been driving trucks together for the last seven years, were targeted by public servants whose job it is to seek out arbitrary substances deemed illegal by the state. While it is certainly bad enough that the state kidnaps, cages, and kills people for ingesting a substance that makes them happy -- they are often dead wrong -- and innocent people suffer at the hands of police incompetence. After being falsely accused of possessing cocaine, Griffin and Harvey are living proof that the war on drugs lays waste to any and all lives, not just those who use drugs.
In May, Griffin and Harvey were on a delivery. The couple has a security clearance and has been delivering explosive ingredients since 2009. However, they were targeted by incompetent cops who used criminally ineffective drug test kits on a white powdery substance found inside the couple's truck. The kit identified the substance as cocaine. But it was not cocaine. It was baking soda Griffin used for stomach problems.
"I use baking soda for everything," said Griffin.
"When you start talking about a schedule one controlled substance, your talking about a major case," Fort Chaffee Police Chief Chuck Bowen said of the case in May, apparently ecstatic that his officers had found a couple with some cocaine.
The police at Fort Chaffee thought they had caught themselves two dangerous cocaine traffickers with 13 ounces of fine white powder.
"I saw the guy hand out a bag of baking soda outside the driver's door, and I told him that's just baking soda, and I think that's when it started," said Harvey.
The Barling Police Department's narcotic unit, who specializes in depriving people of their freedom for possessing substances, was called to the scene.
"We tested it three different times out of two different kits to make sure that we weren't having any issue, and each time we got a positive for controlled substance," said Chief Bowen.
"They thought we had like 13.22 ounces of cocaine, and the guy said I had over $300,000 in cocaine," said Griffin.
Harvey, who is a former cop from Indiana was shocked to learn that he'd been traveling with cocaine. Since he was a former LEO, he never doubted that the police could have possibly been wrong.
"How did cocaine get into the baking soda?" Harvey recalled. "You don't even doubt the tests because I guess I'm stupid, I'm just a citizen and it never occurred to me that the tests were invalid," said Harvey.
"They're not infallible. They are subject to misreadings," explained Greg Parrish, Director of the Public Defender Commission. "There's a lot of these instances where they get false positives."
Yet, he and his band of government drug enforcers continue to use them!
For being in possession of 13 ounces of baking soda, the couple was kidnapped and thrown in a cage.
"The door opened, and there's a woman in the top bunk and a woman in the bottom bunk and a woman on the floor, and I had to sleep on the floor on the other side right next to the toilet," recalled Griffin. "I thought that I'd died and gone to hell. Really."
They couple would be held in a cell for 10 days before they even got to speak to a public defender. Since their cellphones were confiscated and they did not know their family members' phone numbers by heart, four weeks went by before they were able to communicate to Harvey's son that they'd been thrown in jail.
"I felt like I was somewhere that didn't feel like America. I can't call anybody, nobody knows where I'm at," said Harvey.
But he was in America, and it's in America where people get treated like this over substances deemed illegal by the state.
After continuous negligence and dereliction, it would be four more weeks before the police would finally figure out that the substance in the bags was not cocaine.
After spending two months in jail for a crime entirely fabricated by those sworn to protect them, they were released. However, the damage was already done and their lives had been ruined.
After their employer found out they were in jail, the couple was fired and their security clearances revoked. Also, they couldn't go back to work even if they hadn't lost their jobs as it took two additional months for the couple to get their trucks out of impound.
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When asked how an innocent couple could be kidnapped and locked in a cage for carrying around baking soda, Chief Bowen callously responded, "We're not chemists and we don't roll with a chemistry set in the back of police cars."
Well chief Bowen, these are people's lives. If you are going to be depriving people of their freedom for completely legal substances, maybe it's high time you do start to 'roll with a chemistry set in the back of police cars.'
"Two law-abiding working people, and there's no telling how many mistakes they've made. It's a mistake, but these mistakes happen quite often I think," said Harvey -- and he's right. Thousands of innocent people have been deprived of their freedom as a result of these faulty tests.
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 cages in U.S. prisons.
Couple this staggering number with the number of people locked up for non-violent drug possession and the United States looks more like the Gulag of the 1930's than the Land of the Free.
But how can so many innocent people be locked up, how does the state present evidence, that it doesn't have, to get a conviction? Well, the folks at the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the U.S., Marijuana Policy Project, made a short video that explains just how easy it is for police to turn an entirely innocent person into a criminal.
During the short video below, the researchers demonstrate how easy it is for police to generate a false positive during a field test for drugs.
The group tests over the counter Tylenol PM in a police test kit for cocaine -- the test kit says the Tylenol is cocaine.
The group also tests the most popular chocolate in the world, Hershey's chocolate, for marijuana, it also tests positive.
Perhaps the most disturbing test was when the group put absolutely nothing into the field test kit, and they received a positive result.
The implications associated with wrongfully accusing and then claiming to have evidence of an individual in possession of an illegal substance are formidable -- to say the least. Most people are simply unaware of the fact that police test kits are a crapshoot.
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.
In spite of these recommendations and multiple examples of innocent people being incarcerated for their error, police departments across the country continue to employ the use of these "totally useless" kits.
In October, college student John Harrington was thrown in prison after police, with one of these field drug test kits, tested sugar, and came up with a false positive for cocaine.
"Really, I'm really in jail right now for powdered sugar, " John Harrington thought after it happened.
We've also seen the case in which police mistook Jolly Ranchers for meth and jailed an innocent man. Love Olatunijojo, 25, and an unidentified friend purchased Jolly Ranchers at the It’Sugar candy emporium in Coney Island in June of 2013. Several blocks away, cops stopped and searched the friends and mistook the candies for crystal meth. Olatunijojo was then thrown in jail.
In August, we reported on the story of a man who was held in prison for over four months because police falsely identified salt as crystal meth.
And the list goes on...
What does it say about police departments across the country who knowingly use test kits that will implicate innocent people in a crime that they did not commit that will land them in jail?
It is bad enough that the state will kidnap, cage and kill people when they possess a substance deemed illegal by the state. But, when they kidnap, cage and kill people because of their own negligence involved in testing someone's personal items -- they stoop to an entirely new low.