Man Gets $37,500 Payout After Field Drug Test Says Donut Crumbs Are Methamphetamines

from the not-even-worth-the-paper-the-summons-was-printed-on dept

Law enforcement agencies aren’t going to stop using cheap, faulty field drug tests. But they might soon be spending a lot more of the public’s cash settling lawsuits springing from false arrests. NPR has rounded up a few stories of field drug tests declaring normal, legal “substances” to be illegal contraband, starting with a man whose Krispy Kreme donut residue led to an arrest… and a $37,500 payout.

Here’s how the plaintiff’s story began:

As Rushing drove away from the convenience store, police pulled him over. The officer said he had been driving 42 miles an hour in a 30 zone and had failed to come to a complete stop before entering the roadway. When Rushing handed over his driver’s license, Officer Shelby Riggs-Hopkins noticed his concealed-weapons permit. Rushing confirmed he had a pistol, and she asked him to step out of the car for her safety.

The officer then asked if police could search his car, and Rushing said sure — if it meant he wouldn’t be ticketed. Rushing watched as the officers, who now numbered four, conducted a very thorough inspection of his car.

Finally, Riggs-Hopkins said to him, “You want to tell me about what we found?”

“There’s nothing to find,” he said, confused.

But Riggs-Hopkins had noticed some crystals on the floorboard of the car, and when officers used a field testing kit, the white substance tested positive for methamphetamine.

The supposed meth was actually glaze from a Krispy Kreme donut. But the faulty test the officers relied on swore it was drugs. Combined with Rushing’s legal possession of a handgun, the charges mounted: possession of an illegal substance while armed with a weapon. Rushing spent 10 hours in jail before being released. It wasn’t until much later that lab tests confirmed Rushing’s “it’s a donut” story. All charges were dropped.

As NPR notes, this would be almost funny if it were a one-off. But it isn’t. Field drug tests fail repeatedly. Another Florida resident was hauled off for cocaine possession over a substance later proven to be nothing more than drywall dust. (The “suspect” was a self-employed handyman.)

Repeated inaccuracy in the cheap drug tests (less than $2 per) led the Orlando police to conduct an internal investigation of the tests. But the only outcome was additional officer training. The Orlando PD continues to use the NIK narcotic field tests despite their obvious unreliability. The manufacturer insists it instructs law enforcement users the tests are not meant to replace lab work but only to establish probable cause.

That’s a weak excuse, considering the false assumption of probable cause leads to Fourth Amendment violations at the absolute minimum. At best, people may have their vehicles and persons searched thanks to a test’s bogus results. At worst, they’re subjected to additional constitutional violations, jailed for days or weeks over innocuous, legal substances.

Lab tests may clear this all up, but it takes time falsely-accused people don’t have to get this straightened out. In some jurisdictions, turnaround time on lab tests may be more than two months. The accused are normally presented with two unpalatable choices: take a plea bargain involving admission of criminal activity they didn’t actually commit or sit in jail until the test results come back. Some may be able to afford bail, but it’s still money out of their pockets and a serious dent in their permanent records. Plea bargains may get them out of jail quicker, but it comes at the expense of the rest of their lives, detrimentally affecting their future employment and housing prospects.

According to the PD’s own stats, the field tests return false positives 20% of the time. Considering what’s on the line for the falsely accused, this supposedly acceptable error rate is obscene. The NPR piece ends with the falsely-accused man joking he never eats donuts in his car anymore. Maybe it’s a joke, but the punchline relies on citizens altering their habits because cops are willing to let a provably-fallible $2 field test determine the outcome of the rest of someone else’s life. There’s nothing funny about that.

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Comments on “Man Gets $37,500 Payout After Field Drug Test Says Donut Crumbs Are Methamphetamines”

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80 Comments
Cdaragorn (profile) says:

How everyone looks at these tests really gets to me.

The test didn’t fail. That’s not the problem. It tested positive for exactly what it was supposed to test positive for: sugar.

That’s the problem with these tests. They are being run by people who have no idea how chemical tests work based on lies from those who created them.

As someone who has studied chemistry, let me make this very clear: it is impossible to make any kind of chemical test that can positively identify a substance in only one test. A chemical lab is going to run the substance through several tests each meant to rule out other substances in order to firmly prove that there’s only one possible substance it could be.

These tests need to be banned outright. At most they should only be used so the officer on the scene can tell if it’s worth sending the substance in for a real lab test or not. Any arrest made based on any single test on the side of the road should be seen as obviously unconstitutional. There’s no way that kind of test can give you enough information to establish probable cause.

intrautarchy says:

Re: Re:

To get these tests banned, we’d have to be assuming law enforcement is about getting it right the first time, if at all – it isn’t, though. Law enforcement is about a interconnected system of power getting over on the people for the benefit of those who benefit most from it, not serving the public who gets nothing out of it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Analytical chemistry professor here: A single lab test can pretty well (> 99% probability) determine whether a substance is an illegal drug or not. The instrumentation likely uses High Precision Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) with an appropriate detector or Gas Chromatography with a mass spectrometer as detector (GC/MS). Immunoassay methods can also be used for some drugs. Preparation of the sample for analysis takes some time and expertise. The instruments aren’t likely in the trunk of a police car.

Bamboo Harvester (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

You’re talking about LABORATORY GEAR. The field “tests” the cops use are little better than litmus paper.

Dig around a little on field tests – you’ll be amazed at what each of the tests, especially the Amphetamine and Opiod ones will pop positive on.

A cop figure out GCMS sample preparation, much less RUN one? Please!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“A cop figure out GCMS sample preparation, much less RUN one? Please!”

Their comment about a single lab test’s probability was obviously addressed at this one above:

“A chemical lab is going to run the substance through several tests each meant to rule out other substances in order to firmly prove that there’s only one possible substance it could be.”

K`Tetch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Really? How do they do that, when they don’t measure blood alcohol levels at all. They measure BREATH alcohol level, the clue’s in the name ‘BREATHalyser’.

What they measure is a level of alcohol in a measured quantity of air, the hypothesis being that blood alcohol level influences the breath-alcohol level via the alveoli in the lungs. any issue with this barrier can influence the reading. In addition, the machine’s calculation is based on a fixed ratio, assuming a specific breath-to-blood concentration ratio.

They’re really terribly machines, scientifically, but like much of ‘science’ when it comes to police work, their inaccuracy has been glossed over for ease of prosecution.

And that doesn’t even impact individual tolerances. My eldest Just turned 21, and had her first drink last week. Her tolerance for alcohol is incredibly low, and so she’s be significantly impaired by one drink. At 21 I was a very heavy drinker and had been for years (drinking age in the UK is 18, and I’d started years before) and I’d have 3-4 pints at lunch and be mostly unaffected, and at night I’d drink maybe a half litre of vodka, gin or rum. Moving to a mostly dry county in Georgia put a stop to that, so now my tolerance is low again (I’ve had 5 drinks this year, the last 2 were both September 3rd) A 20µg/100ml breath now has me as impaired as 50µg/100ml breath (thats the UK measuring units, the legal limit is 35) would have 20 years ago. Fun thing is, 20 years ago I was ~120lb, now I’m closer to 200, so while it has more of an effect, it also makes an actual lower BAC by percentage.

So it’s super complex, and nonsensical at the same time.
An impairment test would be a more appropriate way of measuring what is actually the important factor – the level of impairment. BAC/BrAC machines are just a fancy approximation method, and don’t measure the important thing.

BTW, I seem to recall a story some 10++ years ago, where a guy got done for a high drink driving level, but then got his sentence reduced on appeal because, as he was a chronic drunk, his impairment level was more in accordance with someone with much lower BAC/BrAC due to his high tolerances caused by years of alcoholism.

Whoever says:

Re: Improbable cause

The problem lies with the judicial system, which seems to not understand the concept of a false positive.

Drug-sniffing dogs are tested for their ability to find drugs, but their false positive rate is never recorded or reported. Also, the fact that the handler can get the dog to give a positive response on command means that sniffer dogs should not provide probable cause.

Judges are not interested in real justice, only in process. The don’t care about outcomes.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Improbable cause

This crap is why the War on Drugs needs to END!!!! It’s gotten so many innocent people killed because the police go to the wrong house and kill someone still in bed!! People sit for days, weeks, months for bogus drug charges.

What is this getting anyone? All it’s doing is created a bigger Police force, more jails because we lock up more people then every other country and it hasn’t stopped anything.

It’s really hypocritical that Drugs are Banned, but Alcohol? Go for it. Look what happened when Alcohol was banned. The same things are going on because Drugs are banned.

We have so many people that are so called Pro Choice and what THEY do to their body, the Government shouldn’t interfere with. To me, that’s killing a person that had ZERO choice in the matter. Drugs on the other hand. You’re doing it to yourself. It really only effects you like Alcohol, right? Just allow it all. Not like people aren’t already killing themselves using it now!!! Legalize it, Tax it and most of the crime created by it goes away.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Political prisoners

A judicial system that doesn’t care about false positives doesn’t care about false convictions.

So we can assume safely they all are, to the last inmate, since there’s no credible means to give veracity to their conviction by a questionable system.

That makes them all political prisoners, waiting for their own Bastille day.

You say you know someone who should remain behind bars? You think maybe Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should stay incarcerated, or Dylann Roof is too dangerous to let out? Are Charles Manson and
Charles Ng being at large going to keep us up at night?

Well, we should have thought about it before we decided to let slide rulings that were obviously spurious and raised doubt as to the integrity of the entire justice system. Bad officers, bad justices, bad dogs, bad tests, it only takes one link to break the chain that turns factual evidence into truth.

It’s worse, since we like to keep them in once they’re in. We make it super difficult for false convictions to do research and to get hearings so that they can challenge their conviction. It’s as if the system already doesn’t have confidence in its rulings, and just wants to shut people up about it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Illegal drugs are more expensive than sugar

Others more knowledgeable than I should comment, but my guess is that illegal drugs are pretty expensive and I’m guessing users would not allow them the be spread around the interior of a car or on their clothing. Where’s the sniffer dog when needed? Then again, I’ve read that these dogs can be alerted by officer signals to “find” something leading to probable cause for a more thorough search of a vehicle.

JoeCool (profile) says:

Like to see the data...

According to the PD’s own stats, the field tests return false positives 20% of the time.

I bet it’s MUCH higher than that. That 20% is after you include drug dogs and other circumstances that make the officers suspicious about unknown substances. I’d bet that if you did a proper double-blind test over a range of substances multiple times, it’s probably over 50%… or worse.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Like to see the data...

What can one do to get and keep a valid sample for real analysis in a real lab?

Without such evidence and a lack of funds, one will probably end up in a plea deal and jail time even when they are innocent, had no drugs – blah blah they do not care as all they are interested in is their stock prices and dividends.

John85851 (profile) says:

No reason to stop doing what they're doing

The other, larger issue is that there’s no punishment for the false positives and holding people in jail for 2 months.
Sure, this story talks about a $37,000 payout, but who’s paying for that?
* Not the company that made the device that said donut glaze was a drug. In fact, this issue probably won’t make a dent in their profits.
* Not the police union, since they were following the instructions from the company that made the device.
* Not the arresting officer, since he was just doing his job.

This means the city and taxpayers pay for the results and the police and company aren’t held responsible, which means no punishment, which means no reason to stop doing what they’re doing.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: No reason to stop doing what they're doing

“The other, larger issue is that there’s no punishment for the false positives and holding people in jail for 2 months.”

Agree, but the moment you put an R or D into the mix it stops being about that and only about party.

“Sure, this story talks about a $37,000 payout, but who’s paying for that?”

The tax payers, and rightly so. If they want to stop paying for this, they can vote in the change necessary to hold the proper people responsible.

<Insert favorite government entity here> ” aren’t held responsible, which means no punishment, which means no reason to stop doing what they’re doing.”

Government and Politics in a nutshell.

Eternal Vigilance was mistranslated to Eternal Indifference by the time that quote reached the peasants ears. I can’t get a single fellow human to help me stop corruption the moment I talk about a bad politician and they find out I am not in their party.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: No reason to stop doing what they're doing

Trump is incredibly corrupt, so is Hillary, yet those were are choices for president and people still voted for them in the millions proving that citizens are in favor of corruption when it serves their politics.

which means… they deserve to pay for the other forms of corruption brought about by their corrupt leaders.

You deserve it, “drink up my hearties, yo ho…”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 No reason to stop doing what they're doing

so you think Obama is a sick fuck too?

good to know.

https://www.politico.com/story/2017/05/09/obama-you-get-the-politicians-you-deserve-238150

You guys really need to be more familiar with the words you own political leaders say.

many others have said the same across multiple political spectrum’s.

the sick fuck is you! Every government is a reflection of its people. this article is bitching about a government we all helped make through either political apathy or expediency. Get off your duff and help make the world a better place instead of whining “I am not guilty” for the politicians I put into office!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 No reason to stop doing what they're doing

Obama says the same thing… you going to say he is eating paint chips too?

https://www.politico.com/story/2017/05/09/obama-you-get-the-politicians-you-deserve-238150

Something tells me that you would applaud Obama saying it, just like his crowd did, but boo me saying it.

don’t let the door of double stands smack you on the ass on your way out… O wait… I think you enjoy that troll.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 No reason to stop doing what they're doing

I did not say it was about Obama, just pointing out that many cheered for what he said but when I say the same thing or paraphrase the same thing I get the boo’s… funny how that work out right?

I don’t like or hate Obama any more than Trump. I recognize the correct things no matter who says them. So I consider the truth for what it is, no matter who says them, you only consider the source so if you don’t like the source you also hate any truth it provides which only leads you down the wrong path because for you, its not about the truth, it’s about the cause, blind in its rage and fury and there is no room for reconciliation, just utter destruction or submission of its enemies.

Truth just is what it is, deny it all you like, it will not stop being.

Bamboo Harvester (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 No reason to stop doing what they're doing

The problem with the two party system and what psychotic nutbags they offer up to us to vote on is that, at a guess, 80% of Party members think THEIR candidate is “good”.

We haven’t had a decent Presidential candidate from either side since … well, I remember Eisenhower, so before even him.

Even the Independent offerings that LOOK good at first tend to be just another carpetbagger on a closer look.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 No reason to stop doing what they're doing

If we can get the people to stop pandering to the two party system we can begin to break that trend, but based on signs from most of the folks around here that is not going to happen.

If you choose to allow the parties to pick your candidate for you and accept those as your only recourse then you are already beginning to accept defeat. We can’t sit back and let them make our path for us, we have to do this for ourselves.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 No reason to stop doing what they're doing

You have to have brain damage to think what I said implied that.

The election between Hillary and Trump is a symptom of the problem here. People like you canceling out the votes of those with better understanding, enabling those like Hillary and Trump to gain enough traction to be viable candidates is the problem.

Daydream says:

Re: No reason to stop doing what they're doing

Technically, the taxpayers aren’t paying the payout for this incident; the city took out a loan from a bank for it.

(Possibly. They would with a larger sum for sure, for ‘only’ $37,000 it might be paid out of pocket.)

What the taxpayers pay is the repayment of the loan, plus interest on the loan, which might mean that $37,000 plus an additional $10,000 or so.

Daydream says:

Re: Re: Re: No reason to stop doing what they're doing

Full disclosure, I can only say for sure that Chicago is doing the ‘issue bonds to pay settlements’ thing. I don’t know whether or not other cities are doing it.

Can anyone find proof, or at least a news story, that other cities are using loans to pay settlements and pushing repayment+interest on the taxpayers?

Gary (profile) says:

The Fix

As we have seen, the fix for unreliable field test kits is officer training which magically allows them to arrest anyone for displaying signs of drug use. Magical tests are much cheaper than even these $2 tests. Once the $2 kits are tossed, they will use more magic for sure:
https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20170513/20274537360/magical-cop-detects-drugs-better-than-blood-tests-continues-to-lock-innocent-people-up.shtml

Oblate (profile) says:

Simple solution: either people without a criminal record are not held pending results from a real drug test by competent personnel, or people cleared by such a test are reimbursed for their salary and expenses for the duration held. The arresting officer should also have to explain, in person, to the family and employer of the person held, that they were the ones who mistook a piece of donut for an illegal substance. The officer should also be forced to wear a ‘Keystone Cops’ badge for the same amount of time that the person was held.

I’m guessing most would go with the first option.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I always liked the taste test, as seen on TV. That cops have sufficient experience to taste an unknown substance and then tell the audience what kind of drug it is, is at the least humorous. Then there is the notion that that substance they were tasting wasn’t actually strychnine or anthrax, what a joke on them that would be.

So the moral of this vignette is that cops watch too much TV and believe what they see there. Unfortunately the results of that ‘training’ is being taken out on citizens, at least sometimes for no good reason.

Paul Brinker (profile) says:

Re: Re: False arrest and imprisonment

Screening Tests are just that, you cant put a false positive rate on them because it would be pointless. All you can say is that compounds of some specific groups are present in the sample, but those groups often contain things that are not drugs.

The above people had it more correct, for small amounts (fragments found on shoes, crumbs in the carpet etc) the law needs to simply screen the person and summon them after a lab test.

Of course we don’t do this because people act like he must be a criminal and should be gotten off the streets RIGHT NOW. Never mind your grandma could be next, for a single bit leaf on her shoe.

ECA (profile) says:

mENTIONED BEFORE

I really wonder if there is a Conspiracy for Make Cities and Towns BANKRUPT..
Faulty Equipment
Faulty training
Killings for little or no reasons
Can I say City/state/federal Officials that have Little or no common Since. No experience of History or Much of anything.

What are we expecting? When our debtates are about CHILD protection on the net…GET THE PARENTS TO DO IT..

Rush to Rushing says:

He Was Targeted

Daniel Rushing was targeted by the cop chick, Shelby Hopkins because she’s an anti-gun whore. She despises the fact that normal, non-pig people can carry a weapon to defend themselves. As soon as she saw his permit this stop was headed the wrong way. She was formally disciplined in February by the OPD for this stupid stunt and because she deliberately targeted Rushing. Though officially it was because she didn’t use the drug tests properly.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: He Was Targeted

“I recognized through my 11 years of training and experience as a law enforcement officer the substance to be some sort of narcotic,” was in the original arrest report. You’d think after eleven years as a cop someone would know the difference between doughnut glaze and crack.

orbitalinsertion (profile) says:

The manufacturer insists it instructs law enforcement users the tests are not meant to replace lab work but only to establish probable cause.

Manufacturer produces words as part of the product. Nothing this unreliable should be a method of establishing probable cause. They also don’t care that prosecutors use this for a lot more than probable cause. They are just happy making steady income from law enforcement, one of those untouchable parts of government, no matter how bad.

That’s a weak excuse, considering the false assumption of probable cause leads to Fourth Amendment violations at the absolute minimum.

No one really has to try anymore.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I think these tests are sold as Drug Conviction Kits, pure and simple. I have doubts the tests actually test for anything. I think they’re more like that magic marker that you get for child coloring books: put anything you can find in it, give it a shake, and instant conviction.

At least, it is, if the accused can be conned into a plea. For example, suppose Rushing had pleaded out: Do you think the test would even have been questioned?

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