A Georgia woman has filed a federal lawsuit after she spent nearly four months in jail because a roadside drug test administered by untrained police officers falsely identified a bag of cotton candy as methamphetamine.
Monroe County resident Dasha Fincher filed the lawsuit last week against Monroe County, the two deputies who arrested her, and the company that makes the drug test. The lawsuit argues that the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office was reckless and negligent and violated her civil rights.
According to the lawsuit, the car Fincher was riding in was pulled over on New Year’s Eve 2016 because of a dark window tint, the deputies said, even though they later admitted the windows were legal. Deputies Cody Maples and Allen Henderson spotted a large open plastic bag inside the vehicle, and Fincher explained that it was cotton candy.
The deputies didn’t believe Fincher and used a roadside field drug test, which they said indicated there was meth in the bag. She was then arrested, hauled off to jail, and charged with meth trafficking and possession of meth with intent to distribute. Her bond was set at $1 million, which she was unable to come up with, so she sat in jail for the next four months.
In March 2017, Georgia Bureau of Investigation lab test results revealed that the substance was not an illegal drug, but Fincher sat in jail for another month before prosecutors finally dropped the charges.
The lawsuit says the drug test is the Nark II, manufactured by North Carolina-based Sirchie Acquisitions. That particular field drug test is known for producing errant results. In Georgia alone, police using the Nark II to field test drugs have wrongfully arrested at least 30 people, including a man with breath mints (positive for crack), a teacher with Goody’s Headache Powder (positive for cocaine), and a couple with vitamins (positive for ecstasy).
In all those cases, as in Fincher’s, lab test results from the Bureau of Investigation found no presence of illegal substances. But in all those cases, the exonerating results came only weeks or months later, after the harm to innocent Georgians had already been done.
The Nark II is still in wide use in Georgia. The manufacturer, Sirchie, defends itself by saying: “Our NARK presumptive drug tests are presumptive only. All samples should be sent to a crime lab for confirmation.”
But too many Georgia law enforcement agencies clearly don’t bother to wait for confirmation before making life-changing arrests. And the state of Georgia doesn’t even require police officers to be trained on how to do the tests. As a result, innocent Georgians are being wrongfully arrested and jailed. And now, perhaps, at least one of these law enforcement agencies will have to pay for its wrongdoing.
This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.