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.