After the glazed donut fiasco, one might hope that the humiliation of being held out to the world as a blithering idiot would be sufficient incentive to prevent a cop from leaping to conclusions. Nope. But in this unnamed deputy’s defense, the field test said so.
Rebecca [Shaw’s] perfect storm of hell started when she ran out of gas on the road. A Pasco County Sheriff’s Office deputy pulled up behind her, but instead of helping her, he asked if he could search her car.
This requires a full stop. Shaw ran out of gas. There is no aspect of running out of gas that gives rise to any suspicion that she was engaged in criminal activity, and yet the deputy decided that, rather than help someone in need, he would seize upon the opportunity to search her car. Shaw, being neither a criminal nor particularly concerned about a search, made a rookie mistake and submitted to the shield. After all, what could possibly go wrong for a woman on the Good Guy Curve?
“[He] said, ‘What are these?’ Rebecca recalled.
She told him they were vitamins, but he apparently didn’t believe her.
“He said, ‘They don’t look like vitamins. They look like oxycodone,’” Rebecca continued.
In the scheme of drug possession, what a pill or capsule “looks like” isn’t particularly informative. Most don’t look like anything other than a pill or capsule, and not even the stupidest cop’s unwarranted belief in his mad investigative skillz suffices to overcome the absence of any basis for suspicion. But this unnamed dep had another trick up his sleeve.
The deputy pulled out a field drug test kit — kits used by law enforcement all over the country to detect illegal drugs. To Rebecca’s shock, the presumptive kit produced a positive hit for oxycodone.
Rebecca insisted the pills were vitamins, not oxy. But it didn’t help. “My heart just sank. I said, ‘That’s wrong!”
But here’s the rub: these cheap field test kits are widely understood as preclusive, not inclusive. They can validly determine that a substance is not a drug, but they’re largely worthless to determine that a substance is a drug, as they’re prone to false positives. Poppy seeds, glazed donuts, now vitamins.
And so Rebecca Shaw, who ran out of gas, got booked for drugs.
The mother of four — who didn’t break the law or do anything wrong — sat in jail for five long, agonizing months.
As an aside, there has been enormous, and certainly well-deserved, outrage at the separation of children from parents in Immigration custody. There is no passionate mob who gives a damn about the separation of people like Rebecca Shaw from her children. Four children. At this peculiar moment in time, the unduly passionate have taken notice of undocumented immigrants, a group that’s suffered outrageous treatment for decades and was utterly ignored.
But somehow these same heartbroken advocates have failed to connect up the separation of children from parents when it involves their fellow citizens. Granted, they are privileged to be Americans, and therefore lower on the victim hierarchy than immigrants, but then, if they truly gave a damn about separation from children, rather than their hatred of the president in office when it happened, they might want to consider that no one beyond our borders cares about what we do to our own. Maybe they could find a little room in their broken hearts for the Rebecca Shaws of their own country. But I digress.
After her husband was able to come up with the bail money, Rebecca waited another seven months for the state crime lab to confirm the pills were, in fact, vitamins.
The case was dropped but the damage had already been done, explained her new attorney Patrick LeDuc. “He does the field drug test and because it tests positive, nothing else mattered. It didn’t matter she had no prior record, it didn’t matter she was out of gas.”
Shaw was held on $5000 bond, which was certainly necessary for fear she would come out of jail only to take vitamins again, or perhaps flee to Tahiti and never be brought to Pasco County’s vitamin justice. Her husband made bail, but it took five months. Not everybody in America can muster that sum. Indeed, many never can, and so they sit and wait.
But there is supposed to be stop-gap measure in the system, given that field drug tests are so grossly inadequate to prove that a substance is an illegal drug. Assuming the crime lab is remotely legit, because some are not, and they produce a legitimate result rather than validate the bust as the police would prefer, this could and should be done with a few days. After all, a person is being held in custody, jailed, based upon a field test that was never intended, and clearly scientifically unvalidated, to show that a substance is drugs.
Yet here, seven months elapsed between Shaw running out of gas and the lab report concluding that the substance was exactly what Shaw said it was, vitamins.
There were numerous points during this disgraceful display of overreach and ignorance that could have saved an innocent woman from sitting in a cell, away from her family, for nothing. But the starting point here, where this unnamed deputy chose to use his shield to search the car of a person suspected of no wrongdoing whatsoever merely because he could is where the disaster that followed should never have happened.
It’s arguably legitimate for an officer to request consent to search when he possesses a reasonable suspicion that there is criminal activity afoot. Even then, it’s problematic, as consent isn’t a product of knowing, voluntary and intelligent decision-making, but the coercion of a cop’s reaction should consent be refused. But when there is no suspicion, or even worse, a person in need of assistance and dependent on the aid of a cop, there is nothing justifiable about this deputy’s exploiting the situation for a possible bust.
Since the deputy remains unnamed, I’ve given him the nickname of Deputy Dolt, reflecting his “vitamins look like oxy” brilliance. It’s really too kind a name, but Deputy scumbag seems undignified, if far more accurate. And I know how important dignity is for the unduly passionate.