Police work is hard. No doubt, spending most of your days dealing with difficult, sad or downright dangerous situations is no walk in the park.
Though the work is difficult, it comes with enormous power. That power can have a big impact on any given citizen’s life.
Unfortunately, there are times when the police make mistakes. Some of those mistakes are no laughing matter. Some however, clearly are, though the citizens on the other end of those mistakes might beg to differ.
Here are 10 instances of mistaken identity of the illegal drug kind.
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10 Cotton Candy
Way back in 1899, John C. Wharton and William Morrison received a patent for the cotton candy machine. From there, the two men took their invention to the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. The rest, as they say, is multi-colored, soft, sugar spun history. Though, I think it is safe to say that neither Wharton, nor Morrison ever envisioned anyone spending time in jail for simply possessing their tasty treat.
Yet, back in 2016, that is exactly what happened to a woman named Dasha Fincher. After police stopped Fincher, they searched her car and found a bag containing a blue, crystal-like substance. Using a roadside testing kit, the officers determined it was methamphetamine.
That was news to Fincher, “I knew it was cotton candy, and for him to come back and say it was meth, I really didn’t know what to say.”
She thought she’d be out of jail the next day. She was off by about 90. “I kept thinking, ‘This is crazy, I’ll get out tomorrow.’ Then when I wasn’t out by Sunday, I said, ‘It’s a holiday weekend, I’ll be home Monday.’ Then every day turned into ‘I’ll be out tomorrow.’”
Eventually, a state crime lab determined that the substance found in Fincher’s car was, in fact, not methamphetamine but cotton candy.
Fincher was released and promptly filed a lawsuit for wrongful arrest and incarceration.
Imagine coming home from a trip, going through the usual airport screening rituals only to be told that, this time, unlike all the other times in your life, you are going to jail.
That is what happened to an Australian man named Neil Parry.
He landed in his home city of Darwin, Australia only to be told that he was going to the old grey bar hotel for trafficking liquid ecstasy. Not only that, but, during the investigation, his boat and the houses of 2 of his friends were searched.
Parry was released from jail after 3 days when the bottles of Pantene Pro-V shampoo and conditioner were found to contain Pantene Pro-V shampoo and conditioner and not the ecstasy that the customs officers suspected.
In the end, authorities ended up paying Parry $100,000 compensation for their mistake. Parry, who spent 17 months legally battling Australian Customs and Border Protection Services, said the money “was not worth it.”
On their end, Australian Customs and Border Protection Services were apologetic, saying, “…mistakes were made during the presumptive testing of Mr Parry’s goods.”
8 Bird Doo-Doo
If you own a car, chances are that, at some point, it is going to be the recipient of a gift from on high. No, not a miracle from the heavens, but a mess from directly above – bird poop.
Late one night, back in July of 2019, Shai Werts, 21 year-old starting quarterback for Georgia Southern University, was pulled over for speeding. What followed was funny and not funny.
The Dashboard camera recorded it all. At one point an officer asks Werts, “What’s the white stuff on the front of your hood, man?” Werts replies, “Bird s**t.” Werts then repeated, “I promise you that is bird doo-doo.” To which the police officer said, “I promise you that it’s not, because I just tested it and it turned pink.”
Turns out, it was, in fact, bird doo-doo.
Yet, Werts spent a night in jail, was charged with cocaine possession and was briefly suspended by his football team. Charges were eventually dropped and his suspension lifted.
The Sheriff’s office responsible for the gaff has since changed the way it uses field tests. “Now we’ll no longer make charges if it’s an unknown substance. We’ll wait for lab results to come back.”
Too late for Werts, but a welcomed change nonetheless.
7 Motor Oil
Crossing the border between the U.S. and Canada may take a while, but most motorists have little to no trouble making the trek – no matter which way they are headed. Most motorists, but not all.
Case in point: back in 2011, one of those vehicles was driven by 66 year-old retired girl scout registrar Janet Goodwin. She set off from her home in Warroad, Minnesota and was headed to Sprague, Manitoba.
Trouble arrived when she tried to cross the border into Canada. After questioning Goodwin, Canadian Border guards searched her vehicle and discovered a canning jar that held a mysterious dark liquid. After conducting a quick test, the guards determined that the mysterious liquid was heroin.
Headed to Manitoba to play bingo and stop by to visit her daughters, Goodwin, instead, was taken to jail. “I couldn’t even think, I was so astounded,” a shocked Goodwin recalled. She added, “I said, ‘That’s not even possible.’ I said, ‘I’m sure it’s oil that was put in there that was left over or something.’ And they said, ‘No, it tests positive for traces of something.’”
No money for bail, Goodwin, the grandmother of 12, spent an equal number of days locked up in the Winnipeg Remand center. Finally, she was let go when further tests concluded that the liquid was not heroin but motor oil.
Though not pleased with the mistake and spending 12 days in jail for it, Goodwin had nothing but positive things to say about her cellmates, “The inmates were all very good to me. I wasn’t afraid of them at all.”
6 Hibiscus Plant
Large, colorful flowers are the most striking feature of the Hibiscus plant. Besides their beauty, these flowers can also be made into tea. Hibiscus sabdariffa is the most popular of the Hibiscus varieties.
Now the Hibiscus plant can add one other distinction – it can get you arrested.
That is what happened to Edward and Audrey Cramer back in 2017. Apparently, it all started when a neighbor’s tree fell onto their property and caused damage to their home and a garden tractor. The Cramer’s then called their insurance company. The insurance agent sent out to inspect the damage done by the neighbor’s tree also took pictures of the Cramers’ hibiscus plants and sent them to the police.
Next thing the Cramers knew, police officers carrying assault rifles showed up at their home. Audrey, 66, who answered the door, was only partially dressed in a bra, short top and underpants. Afterwards, still clearly rattled, Audrey commented on the ordeal, saying, “I was not treated as though I was a human being. I was just something they were going to push aside.”
When her husband, Edward, 69, came home, he found his wife in the back of a police car and guns pointed at him. He tried to tell officers that the plants were only Hibiscus, but they were having none of it. Edward was cuffed as well.
Thankfully, after 4 hours and a thorough police search of the home, the Cramers were uncuffed and released. Sergeant Scott Hess of the Buffalo, Pennsylvania Township Police stated the obvious when he said he did not think the Hibiscus plants were marijuana.
However, the experience left the Cramers shaken, as Audrey related when she offered, “I’m starting to understand why a lot of the public do not trust the police officers. I’m starting to see a lot on TV where I thought, ‘No, you have to be wrong because the police wouldn’t make such a bad mistake.’ Yeah, they would.”
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5 Glazed Donut
Apparently, tasty treats that have little to no nutritional value also have the added negative of occasionally getting you in trouble with the law.
Back in December of 2015, a Florida man named Daniel Rushing, 64, was in the midst of doing not 1 but 2 good deeds. He had just dropped off a friend at a chemotherapy appointment and was in the process of driving an older woman he knew from church home when he was pulled over by the police. Stopped for speeding, Rushing was asked by the female officer, Shelby Riggs-Hopkins, if she could search his car. Rushing agreed. That’s when things got kooky.
After the search, Riggs-Hopkins returned to Rushing and asked him about some crystals that were found. Rushing had no idea what she was talking about. Riggs-Hopkins claimed the crystals tested positive for methamphetamine. A dumbfounded Rushing replied, “That’s glaze from a Krispy Kreme doughnut! I get one every other Wednesday.”
Officers disagreed and booked Rushing for possession of methamphetamine.
Rushing relayed the bizarre nature of the experience by saying, “It was funny because I called my wife to tell her what happened, and the guy next to me waiting for the phone started to laugh.”
Naturally, after further testing, the “crystals” were deemed not to be methamphetamine.
Amazingly, Rushing is pretty cool about the ordeal. He thinks the problem is not with the officers, but with the testing kits, adding, “These kits give a false positive 1 out of every 5 times.”
Half of all Americans take Multivitamin or multimineral supplements even though the evidence supporting their effectiveness in preventing disease and maintaining overall health is limited.
Joseph Ray Burrell, 31, was one such vitamin user who, at least on one particular night, wishes he wasn’t. That night, he was exiting the parking lot of a local grocery store when he was stopped by police. As well as not having his lights on, Burrell was in trouble for a warrant stemming from his failure to appear in court for a charge of running away from a police officer. Then, his vehicle was searched. The officer found a plastic bag containing ½ an ounce of crystal shards. A subsequent field test was positive for methamphetamine.
Though Burrell had used drugs in the past, this time, the substance in the bag was eventually determined to not contain anything illegal. As Burrell later said, “I told the judge I couldn’t plead guilty to something I knew wasn’t a drug. They set my bail at $250,000 for vitamins.”
Funny thing was that, around the same time that the police officer stopped him, Burrell had just completed an in-patient drug treatment program at a nearby clinic. The vitamins mistaken for meth were prescribed for a sore shoulder Burrell was dealing with at the time.
3 Breath Mint
How stinky is the breath of Americans? Very, at least according to sales figures. Sales of breath mints shot up 26% between 2012 and 2017. Apparently, continuous snacking and the consumption of spicier foods are driving demand.
In November of 2018, Ed McFadden, 52, was pulled over in Rockdale County, Georgia. The officer claimed to have smelled weed – which McFadden blamed on a friend who had previously driven his truck – and used that as a reason to search the vehicle. McFadden didn’t mind until the police officer claimed that he found a substance that tested positive for cocaine. McFadden couldn’t believe it, saying, “Take me to jail man because that ain’t no cocaine.” Another officer replied that, “Test kits don’t lie.”
It wasn’t until after McFadden missed two days of work and paid a bail bondsman to be released that he discovered the real culprit. “As soon as I saw those candy wrappers I said…breath mints!”
7 months later, GBI Crime Lab confirmed McFadden’s suspicions when they revealed that the item found by police in McFadden’s truck was not crack or any other illegal substance.
“Nobody would believe that of course. You tell anyone that I got locked up for breath mints. Anyone I was telling that, nobody would believe me.”
2 Okra Plant
Okra is a plant containing edible seed pods. Grown in warm climates, Okra is sometimes referred to by its nickname, “lady’s finger.” It comes in 2 colors – red and green. Though a fruit, people tend to use it as a vegetable in cooking. It is very popular in South America.
Okra must not be well known in Cartersville, Georgia, at least not to its police department and one Dwayne Perry can attest to that.
One morning, back in 2014, Perry was woken up by a helicopter that was flying unusually low over his house. Next, Bartow County deputies showed up at his door with their K-9 unit. Turns out, the chopper was with the Government’s task force for drug suppression. They suspected Perry was growing cannabis. Perry was mystified, “Instead, it’s okra and maybe a bush on the end of the house.”
Perry knew his stuff as he pointed out that his plants had 5 leaves not the incriminating 7 that distinguish a cannabis plant. He was also pissed off, “Here I am, at home and retired and you know I do the right thing. Then they come to my house strapped with weapons for no reason. It ain’t right.”
The police ended up apologizing to Perry on the scene.
1 Coconut Candy Powder
One night, prior to heading to a party, two friends, José Pena and Cesar Rodriguez stopped into a store to pick up their favorite candy. As they exited, police asked to search their van. Rodriguez agreed. That’s when the police discovered a Hello Kitty bag full of white powder. The two friends tried to tell the officers that it was candy, but the cops weren’t buying it. Charged with cocaine possession, the two men were arrested and transported to jail.
It was only days later, when police concluded testing the mystery substance that they realised their mistake. Charges against Pena and Rodriguez were immediately dropped and they were free to go.
Though wrongly accused, arrested and put in jail, an immediate apology was not forthcoming from the police.
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