Man Sues After Field Drug Test Says His Daughter's Ashes Are Meth And Ecstasy

from the if-prosecutors-have-any-shame-at-all,-they'll-start-tossing-some-convictions dept

Cops like cheap field drug tests. They don’t like them because they’re accurate. They like them because they’re cheap. And since you get what you pay for, they’re way cheaper (in the long run) then sending for a drug dog.

Field drug tests are probable cause at $2 a pop. They’re even more unreliable than drug dogs when it comes to correctly identifying drugs. That’s why some prosecutors — the nominal best friends of law enforcement — are refusing to accept plea deals for drug charges stemming solely from field drug tests.

Field drug tests have said donut crumbs, cotton candy, and honey are methamphetamines. They’ve said bird poop on a car’s hood (!!) and bog standard aspirin are cocaine. Whatever a cop imagines to be drugs can usually be “confirmed” by the test kits they carry with them. Once the vial says it’s drugs, the cops are free to search, seize, and arrest.

Cops don’t need to be this wrong about drugs. But there’s no penalty for being this wrong. So, it continues. Prosecutors may have to drop a few cases when the drug lab says the supposed drugs aren’t actual drugs, but plea deals tend to go into place before labs get around to testing the evidence. And that’s if the evidence even makes its way to a lab. Cops aren’t the best at paperwork, which is convenient when it’s their word against yours. Even if a cop gets sued for turning non-contraband into contraband and drug charges, they’re usually indemnified by the city they work for or granted qualified immunity for relying on what they thought was actual science.

And, because no one seems too interested in ending the reliance on unreliable drug tests, this is the sort of travesty we’ve come to expect.

Newschannel 20 and FOX Illinois obtained new body camera video of the incident sparking Dartavius Barnes to sue the City of Springfield.

In the suit, Barnes claims his vehicle was unlawfully searched on April 6, 2020 when he was pulled over near Laurel and 16th Streets in Springfield.

He says officers placed him in handcuffs while they searched his vehicle without consent, valid warrant, or probable cause.

During the search, Barnes says officers took a sealed urn of his daughter’s ashes, unsealed it, opened it without consent, and spilled out the ashes.

If you think that’s terrible, just wait for the backstory. Barnes’ daughter Ta’Naja Jones was only two when she died. And she may have been killed. The girl’s mother and her current boyfriend were both arrested on murder charges.

The ultimate insult to Ta’Naja Jones and her father happened here. Ta’Naja Jones’ final resting place wasn’t in the urn Barnes kept in his car. It was in a field drug test that officers performed because they just couldn’t bring themselves to believe it might be the last remains of a loved one.

According to law enforcement’s favorite faulty test equipment, the ashes of Ta’Naja Jones were possibly ecstasy. And that conclusion was reached after the ashes failed to test positive for cocaine.

An officer presented the officer whose body camera was rolling with a narcotics test kit.

“I checked for cocaine, but it looks like it’s probably molly,” the officer said.

“X pills,” the other added, citing the street name for ecstasy.

In the end, the cops decided the ashes were a combination of meth and ecstasy because that’s how drug users carry their drugs: all mixed together in a single container. What even the fuck.

Field drug tests allow cops to work backwards from their conclusions. If it doesn’t test positive for one drug, it’s probably some other drug. And if it doesn’t test positive for anything, it might still be drugs because sometimes drugs are carried in containers. “Based on training and experience” and all of that horseshit. The stuff that says criminals sometimes act like normal non-criminals. And if criminals act like non-criminals on a regular basis, every non-criminal is guilty until proven otherwise.

Barnes has sued [PDF]. It’s a short lawsuit and it looks like it will be an uphill battle to win. Barnes admitted to having marijuana in the car and apparently consented to a search. The end result was this horrendous violation of his daughter’s remains, but everything up to that point was “reasonable” enough (utilizing the courts’ definition of this word rather than the definition citizens use) that it will be hard to prove the officers crossed Constitutional boundaries.

The problem here is the field drug tests and the officers believing they can actually positively identify drugs with them. They were “reasonable” to rely on the drug test results because everyone who benefits from the use of faulty tests told them the tests were reliable, even when they’re obviously not. If a child’s ashes are not just one, but two different illegal substances, anything can be anything whenever a cop wants it to be something.

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Comments on “Man Sues After Field Drug Test Says His Daughter's Ashes Are Meth And Ecstasy”

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This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

Should vs Likely will

How this should work out: ‘Bloody hell these tests are so grossly inaccurate that they can result in a child’s ashes testing positive as not one but two illegal drugs?! Any past convictions based upon these testing methods clearly need to be thrown out as unreliable, the tests themselves barred from further use and the two officers involved ordered to personally pay a hefty fine for such gross disrespectful for a dead family member in their search for drugs involving a wildly unreasonable ‘search’ of a funeral urn.’

How I expect this to work out: ‘Eh, mistakes happen and occasionally the tests might result in a false positive, but since police have no possible reason to suspect that the tests are unreliable and it’s theoretically possible that a drug seller/user might have hidden their drugs in a collection of ashes nothing that was done was even legally questionable. Case dismissed.’

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Obviously they've never encountered "real drugs"

Anyone that can confuse cremation ashes with any illicit substance has obviously not seen the actual substance they are confusing it for… or if they did, they failed to actually recognize it, so anything and everything could be a illicit drug

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Obviously they've never encountered "real drugs"

I have no doubt that the same cops who would swear under penalty of perjury in court that the drug tests are absolutely accurate enough to use on members of the public would instantly change their tune if those same drug tests were proposed to be used on them.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Yeah super trooper wanted to run another test as the poor man was screaming it was the remains of his daughter, his father arrived & said no those are remains, and finally one of the cops remembered the man from being at the murder scene & decided maybe just maybe those were his babies ashes & suggest against a 2nd test as they were just trampling on this man in his grief.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Don't these tests now have a long and checkered history?

I’d think a defense lawyer could spend a day reading to the judge, prosecution and jury news article after news article after news article after news article of these tests yielding false positives, sometimes resulting in a false conviction and sending an innocent person to prison.

Or is this the end result of tough on crime policies, because Americans just want more warm bodies occupying our private penitentiaries?

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Upstream (profile) says:

Don't blame the dogs

They’re even more unreliable than drug dogs when it comes to correctly identifying drugs.

It is not that the dogs are inaccurate, it is generally that the handlers are dishonest and corrupt, ie they are cops. Poor training, often intentional in the case of drug detection dogs, can be at fault as well. Of course, drugs shouldn’t be illegal to begin with, but drug detection dogs can be just as accurate as dogs that detect explosives, cadavers, cancers, viruses, or other substances. And all of these detection dogs can be extremely accurate.

The drug detection dogs should not be allowed to be "probable cause on four paws" nor should their "testimony" be allowed in court, but not because the dogs are inherently inaccurate, but because the handlers are dishonest and corrupt.

Here is some data from the National Academy of Sciences:

Here is a quote from the abstract:

"Evaluation of 10 canines trained for detection of a severe exotic phytobacterial arboreal pathogen, Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus (CLas), demonstrated 0.9905 accuracy, 0.8579 sensitivity, and 0.9961 specificity."

Here is an article from UCLA Department of Psychology:

Here is a quote from that abstract:

" After 15 weeks, the dogs achieved 95% detection reliability."

Here is an article from Frontiers in Veterinary Science about dogs detecing viruses, and distinguishing between different types of viruses:

Here is a quote from the article:

"Detection of BVDV-infected cell cultures by Dog 1 had a diagnostic sensitivity of 0.850 (95% CI: 0.701–0.942), which was lower than Dog 2 (0.967, 95% CI: 0.837–0.994). Both dogs exhibited very high diagnostic specificity (0.981, 95% CI: 0.960–0.993) and (0.993, 95% CI: 0.975–0.999), respectively. These findings demonstrate that trained dogs can differentiate between cultured cells infected with BVDV, BHV1, and BPIV3 and are a realistic real-time mobile pathogen sensing technology for viral pathogens."

Here is a recent article from CNN about dogs that detect Covid-19:

Here is a quote from that article:

"During the testing period, the dogs did dozens of trials, with a success rate of between 76% to 100%. Jacky and Bella, the two dogs that specialized in detecting colon cancer, had a 100% success rate in the 68 tests they completed."

Here is an article by Radley Balko that also addresses the issue. This article, while mentioning the capability of the dogs, focuses primarily on all the problems introduced by incompetent or improperly motivated handlers:

Here is a quote from that article:

"The problem with drug-sniffing dogs is not that dogs aren’t capable of sniffing out drugs; it’s that we’ve bred into domestic dogs a trait that trumps that ability — a desire to read us and to please us. If a drug dog isn’t specifically trained to compensate for this, it will merely read its handler’s body language and confirm its handler’s suspicions about who is and isn’t hiding drugs."

The bottom line is that the weak link is either the training or the handler, whether through incompetence or ill-intent. Trained and handled properly, the dogs do quite well.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Trick Pony Dogs

The problem is the police want trick pony dogs that signal at anything, which justifies searching according to a signal.

If we use dogs to detect substances by walking them along hundreds of passengers’ luggage, because we can’t afford to open and search every one, that’s proper use.

But when a police officer brings his dog to force a detained driver to open up his car without consent to search, that’s improper. And we see a lot of that in the US.

Dogs that false positive should be retired, and (noting an instance) when the Cook County law enforcement search Latin folk with dogs, they yield over 90% false positives. That’s misuse of dogs.

I’d like to suggest policy about limiting dog use, but I’ve lost trust with US law enforcement entirely, and think the whole justice system should be abolished.

So I’ll say dogs should not be used in law enforcement in the United States. There’s just too much risk of abuse.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

The cost of false positives is borne by the suspected citizen, not by the producers of the crappy tests, and not by the cops. Even when the citizen successfully sues, the fine is paid by the comunity.

The problem is not the crappy tests, the problem is the lack of consequences. No one should be surprised by the outcome.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Upstream (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The problem is not the crappy tests, the problem is the lack of consequences. No one should be surprised by the outcome.

We see this time and again: Bad incentives, improper incentives, lack of disincentives or consequences . . . they all inevitably result in bad behaviors and bad outcomes. And the AC is absolutely correct in that none of this should be cause for surprise.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Legal weed in his car

Hence the need for an extended search to find some reason to arrest him.

Law enforcement in the US is notorious for finding petty reasons to put people in prison. But their primary interest is in finding and seizing large amounts of cash or liquidatable assets they can seize to purchase secret surveillance equipment.

Also to imprison nonwhites, and anyone else who is too weird for the streets (e.g. lunatics and trans-folk).

Lostinlodos (profile) says:

The error was consenting. On top of that why is a pot head driving around with his daughter’s ashes any way.

Btw: drugs in urns dates back to Korean and Vietnam wars.

Innocent or not this was a case where he was begging to be in trouble. driving with a drug that’s federally illegal. And having the urn. Then consenting to a search.

What the article doesn’t cover here is why he was stopped in the first place.

But the FDA should ban these tests outright. That would out an end to it.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

"“” driving with a drug that’s federally illegal.””"

…and? Your argument is still that because they found a legal possession the cops needed to desecrate the ashes of a man’s murdered child because…a law which does not apply exists elsewhere?

I am not a lawyer but that sounds like complete bullshit to me.

"Innocent or not this was a case where he was begging to be in trouble. driving with a drug that’s federally illegal. And having the urn. Then consenting to a search. "

It’s beginning to sound as if "being on the road" is simply "begging for it" at this point. Driving while brown. Driving too slowly. Driving too fast. Driving in a new car. Driving in an old car. Driving with an urn in the car. Driving with legal possessions in the car.

At some point you’re going to have to realize that the problem isn’t and never has been that the public is "begging for it" because they’re "wearing a provocative dress" in the eyes of the police…but that there is a deeply rooted issue with US law enforcement in general which encourages outright thuggery among those wearing a badge.

Lostinlodos (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Well, driving too fast is illegal and you should get a ticket.

Driving to slow usually indicates a problem of some sort and should be investigated. Are you drunk? High? Having a heart attack, or stroke?
No one can legitimately claim anything here without knowing why he was pulled over?
Pot may be legal, but driving high as a kite isn’t. So why was he actually pulled over?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Still interested in why he was pulled over in the first place.

I’m sure you can find a hundred more reasons why you feel the cops should be entitled to their behavior.

Seriously, having an urn of your daughter’s ashes should not be a reason to rouse suspicion. But looking at your response, you think the guy was asking for it for carting his daughter’s ashes around? Really?

Then again, considering how many times you broke your back to carry Trump’s water…

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Wearing a provocative dress. Yeah, she was begging for it. That’s the argument?

And it’s not acceptable. With a straight face, the logic here is that the victim in the article was in error?

If that’s the case then the argument you’ve delivered is that one of the great hazards on a US road is the actual police. This points back to where we need to ask whether the US can afford to subsidize an organization which swings between Keystone Cops ineptitude and active malice as often as it does.

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