A Florida man has been released after spending 90 days in jail because police mistook some drywall dust in his car for cocaine.
According to police, Karlos Cashe, 57, was pulled over by officers in Oviedo for driving without headlights. A search of the handyman’s car turned up a white powder.
Body-cam footage of the incident reportedly showed Cashe tell the cops that he didn’t realize his lights weren’t on before he repeatedly denied having anything illegal in his vehicle.
Cashe then pleaded with the cops not to arrest him as he maintained the white powder they found was dry wall dust. After the officers ran a check on Cashe however, they found he was on probation for cocaine and marijuana charges he received in 2015.
As a result they conducted a filed test on the substance which registered a false positive result for cocaine. Because Cashe was on probation he was denied bond and kept in jail for 90 days until lab results vindicated him.
According to police, the substance was sent to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for lab testing. The results, which were negative for any illegal substance, came back on May 16. It took until June 19 however, for Cashe to be released from jail.
This isn’t the first time that field tests have mistakenly placed an innocent person in jail. In another Florida case, an Orlando man found himself behind bars when overzealous cops mistook the glaze from a donut as methamphetamine.
In a Pennsylvania case taxpayers had to pay a Brooklyn, New York man $195,000 after he was wrongly jailed for 29 days because a roadside drug test misidentified homemade soap as cocaine.
According to an extensive ProPublica investigation, 100,000 people across the country plead guilty each year to drug possession charges that are based solely on unreliable field tests that have changed little since the 1970s.
The investigation revealed that “even the most modest of error rates could produce thousands of wrongful convictions,” especially when considering that the tests can produce false positives for a variety of reasons.
According to the investigation:
The field tests seem simple, but a lot can go wrong. Some tests… use a single tube of a chemical called cobalt thiocyanate, which turns blue when it is exposed to cocaine. But cobalt thiocyanate also turns blue when it is exposed to more than 80 other compounds, including methadone, certain acne medications and several common household cleaners. Other tests use three tubes, which the officer can break in a specific order to rule out everything but the drug in question — but if the officer breaks the tubes in the wrong order, that, too, can invalidate the results. The environment can also present problems. Cold weather slows the color development; heat speeds it up, or sometimes prevents a color reaction from taking place at all. Poor lighting on the street — flashing police lights, sun glare, street lamps — often prevents officers from making the fine distinctions that could make the difference between an arrest and a release.
There are no established error rates for the field tests, in part because their accuracy varies so widely depending on who is using them and how. Data from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement lab system show that 21 percent of evidence that the police listed as methamphetamine after identifying it was not methamphetamine, and half of those false positives were not any kind of illegal drug at all. In one notable Florida episode, Hillsborough County sheriff’s deputies produced 15 false positives for methamphetamine in the first seven months of 2014. When we examined the department’s records, they showed that officers, faced with somewhat ambiguous directions on the pouches, had simply misunderstood which colors indicated a positive result.
According to Cashe, he is weighing his legal options and looking for a way to be compensated for the three months of work he missed while in jail.
“I was profiled. It wasn’t the first time, it was just the worst of those times,” Cashe said. “I was going to jail for something that night, and what it was they decided it would be cocaine.”
The Oviedo Police Department made a statement regarding the incident stating that their field test kits are 99 percent accurate. They did say however, that they plan on reevaluating their field testing procedures.