Oddly, Werts’s own lawyer doesn’t think he should seek an apology, much less sue the Saluda County Sheriff’s Office.
“They had a pretty credible basis for pursuing, and ultimately stopping him and that is speeding,” Jones said. “Then they didn’t do anything wrong by attempting to collect evidence, or what they saw as evidence even though they had no basis from looking at him and looking at the inside of his car to think that he was transporting drugs.“But they still saw what they saw on the hood of his car and made a common-sense determination of what they thought it was and they collected it. It tested positive so they were acting within the bounds of the law at the time.”
This is ridiculous. These field tests are notoriously unreliable. That hasn’t stopped police departments from using them, of course. And it also doesn’t mean we should just shrug it off when someone is falsely arrested, portrayed in the media as a drug user, and subjected to national ridicule because the police relied on tests known to have a high rate of false positives.
Even putting aside the reliability issue, I have questions.
- Do the officers who pulled Werts over really believe that cocaine would remain on the hood of a car after that car was driven at 80 miles per hour? What manner of consuming cocaine would cause the cocaine to stick to the hood? I’m having a difficult time imagine any interaction with the drug that would result in portions of it being stuck to the hood of a car in a manner that could withstand wind at 80 miles per hour.
- Given all of that, why would these deputies see a white substance on the hood, and immediately assume it was cocaine, rather than the dozen or so other more likely explanations? Have they ever mistaken bird poop for cocaine before? Why would they decide that this was a substance that needed to be tested at all?
- Is it possible that they were influenced by — and I’m just spit-balling here — the fact that Werts was a young black guy driving a sports car?
- 4) Even if it was cocaine, how did they plan to tie it to Werts? It would be one thing if that powder was inside the car. But were they prepared to hold the man liable for a substance on the outside of his car — and could have come from anywhere?
If I were Werts, I’d consider getting another lawyer. Perhaps one who’s a little more skeptical of local law enforcement.
Finally, if you’ve been reading my work for a while, you know that I’ve been keeping a list of substances that have resulted in false positives from these tests. Here’s the list: Sage, chocolate chip cookies, motor oil, spearmint, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap, tortilla dough, deodorant, billiards chalk, patchouli, flour, eucalyptus, breath mints, loose-leaf tea, Jolly Ranchers, vitamins, Krispy Kreme doughnut glaze, air, Tylenol, just about every brand of chocolate at your local convenience store, dry wall, BC powder, cotton candy, powdered sugar and, now, bird poop.
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