Chalk another one up to faulty drug field tests:
The possession of cocaine charge has been dropped against Georgia Southern quarterback Shai Werts, the prosecutor in Saluda County, South Carolina, told the Savannah Morning News on Thursday, Aug. 8.
Al Eargle, the Deputy Solicitor for the 11th Judicial Circuit which includes Saluda County, told Werts’ attorney, Townes Jones IV, that these kinds of charges would not be pressed on “his watch,” Jones said.
South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) tests were conducted on the substance samples collected from the hood of Werts’ 2016 Dodge Charger, but the results confirmed that no controlled substance was present in the samples.
“I have not seen (the SLED results) yet,” Eargle said on a phone call Thursday night. “But I was informed that the test did come back and that there was no controlled substance found.”
A native of nearby Clinton, South Carolina, Werts was charged on July 31 with misdemeanor possession of cocaine and speeding after his silver Dodge Charger was clocked going 80 mph on Chappells Highway at 8:58 that evening in Saluda County. The speeding charge remains.
Werts, the Eagles’ starting quarterback, was suspended from the team for two days before returning to practice on Sunday.
Field tests taken by two different officers on the substances tested positive for cocaine with two different kits, in two different spots of the hood.
The football team has since lifted the suspension. Werts told the deputies who stopped him that the substance was probably bird poop. For that, he was widely ridiculed, from fan sites, to lifestyle sites, to the New York Post.
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.
Read more from Radley Balko: