Vitamins, A Field Test And Deputy Dolt

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.

40 thoughts on “Vitamins, A Field Test And Deputy Dolt

  1. AM

    “sat in jail for five long, agonizing months” … “another seven months for the state crime lab to confirm the pills were, in fact, vitamins.”

    A year to do a lab test. What on earth was the court doing during that time? Adjourning over and over? Where was the defense attorney demanding trial? There is a lot more here than FOX13 seems to have grasped.

      1. AM

        As I read the original story it suggests that she spent 5 months in jail and then it was another seven months after her husband posted bail for the lab results.

        Which, to Gertrude, is not to suggest that 7 months would be an acceptable delay for a pill test.

        1. SHG Post author

          Obviously, I read it otherwise. Still do. But since this was crucial enough for you to comment again, okay.

          Edit: I re-read (the “another seven months” is a quote. That’s why it’s indented in the post, because that’s how quotes are shown) and agree with your reading. It appears I’m wrong and it was a year. And it still changes nothing substantive about the post or what happened.

          1. B. McLeod

            Obviously, the particularly problematic part of the 12 months were the five she was sitting in custody, based on a scientifically unreliable indicator. Systemically, officers should not be arresting solely on these field tests and judges should not be finding them adequate to hold a person in custody.

        2. Sgt. Schultz

          Yes, this was a critical issue to make a stink about, because pedants gonna asshole. Even if you were right, so fucking what?

  2. khal spencer

    Good grief.

    I assume the lawsuit is in progress given that the search was ridiculous, the cop incompetent, and the county negligently dragged its feet? Perhaps the Pasco sheriff office should institute an IQ test in their screening procedure.

    This is unacceptably stupid.

      1. B. McLeod

        Agreed. She consented to the search, and the officer relied on a test he had been given as a proper indicator of oxycodone (although prescription oxy should have pharma markings not present on vitamins). The officer was not really at fault here, but simply did not have adequate information about the limits of the test kit he had been given.

            1. John Barleycorn

              “It was scary being in there and having a public defender that didn’t believe me” 

              Humm…

              …and not a word about the prosecutor and judge to complete the holy trinity? What-a-gyp!

              There you go Bill. There is nothing like a friendly game of Friday T-ball.

              Swing away….

            2. Billy Bob

              My lips are sealed. And furthermore, my dear McCloudy Day,… I was planning on sitting this one out till our host injudiciously dropped my name which is neither uncommon nor unusual.

              Unlike Barleycorn and s few others, it’s gotten to the point where it’s more trouble than worthwhile. Only kidding!

            3. John Barleycorn

              The guild “holy trinity” here, but as with so many other thoughts “bad cop”

              WELL NO SHIT DEAR. WHERE IS THE BAR!????!!!???!!!

              just saying…..burp.

      2. Scott Jacobs

        There is no clearly established right to not rot for 5 months – and be under the thumb of the System for a whole year – because no one can bother to fucking test the “drugs” in a lab.

        1. Anne-Marie

          Agreed. Clearly the administration of field- and lab-testing is problematic, and leads to people being incarcerated for simply being poor.

          1. Frank

            At least the lab tests came back negative. That’s used to be a good way for the drug lab to lose a contract.

    1. Guitardave

      There are IQ tests in some PDs…thing is your disqualified if you score to high. Obviously Deputy Dipshit didn’t have that problem.
      There was an article ( when and from where, I don’t remember…and not supposed to link anyway, so..) awhile back about a guy suing…(again, not certain, but i think it was in Boston) .. a PD Academy for that very reason.
      Authoritarian followers are notoriously stupid….God forbid having cops who question their superiors….even though that’s what they’re doing when they question most normal people.

      1. Frank

        It was Connecticut, and the 2nd Circus affirmed. He’s now working as a corrections officer.

        1. Billy Bob

          You are correct, Frank. My “home state” of CONnecticut, about which I write so fondly and frequently: A veritable Bermuda Triangle of the Legal Mind.

          I believe it was a New London case where the city said the recruit’s IQ was so high that he would be unchallenged and so dissatisfied with police work that he would quit and thereby cost the city $s for uncompensated training costs.

          A very bizarre argument and very weird case. And not the only one coming out of CT.
          P.S.: My own state and counter-state federal cases are worthy of note. But that is all the Host will allow me to post, as this is a law blawg and not Reddit. He has indulged me once too often. Ha.

  3. Anne-Marie

    The search and arrest are still problematic, but the story left out a key piece of information that officer would have had after running her plates:

    Two months before her arrest, Pasco County police records show that Shaw had been arrested and charged with domestic battery and possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia.

    [Ed. Note: Link allowed because reasons.]

    1. SHG Post author

      It is a significant omission, from the narrative perspective. It doesn’t, however, prove guilt (it was an arrest, not a conviction) nor justify anything that happened here. But it is surprising that it was not reported in the linked story.

      1. Anne-Marie

        I agree, he doesn’t appear to have probable cause to search the car, unless her prior arrest for drugs occurred in the same car. I don’t know if that’s the case. It does, however, make the headline inaccurate. This was no “Deputy Dolt.”

        1. SHG Post author

          Don’t be so quick to excuse Deputy Dolt. It still doesn’t explain his assumption that vitamins “looked like” oxy.

          1. Anne-Marie

            True. I’m from West Virginia, where we also have a huge Oxy problem. Honestly, the same series of events would have happened here.

  4. wilbur

    I can’t speak for other venues, but in the South Florida county where I work, the State Attorney’s Office quit relying on field test results 20+ years ago. We will not file an information charging possession of controlled substance charge without a positive lab result (except for cannabis). The lab has to be completed within 30 days of the arrest, with rare exceptions, or the case gets tubed.

    An information must be filed with 175 days of a felony arrest or speedy trial problems ensue. The judge let this case languish on the docket with no state action for 210 days? Hard for me to imagine.

    1. SHG Post author

      In NY, they have 144 hours if a person is in custody, or they have to release the person on her own recognizance. CPL 180.80.

        1. JohnM

          Having driven through Pasco for the first time recently, and based on my “kids – roll up the windows, lock the doors” reaction, they have my vote.

  5. That Anonymous Coward

    Is it possible she could have a course of action against the test maker?
    There are many departments out there buying the cheapest tests, ignoring they are often wrong, so that they can say well at the time we thought it was drugs, but look at this other crime we discovered!!

    I would think a high profile suit against the maker of the tests would help close the door on the magic tests that provide cover to unacceptable actions. Other testing has to be certified before it can be used as evidence in court (bite mark, hair, other stupid magic tests) and they are crap they finally get tossed.

    I see these tests as being on par with an officer coming to your door, throwing a pocket knife inside behind you, then arresting you for brandishing a weapon at the officer & searching the house. It invents cover for actions they wish to take without any evidence beyond I think its hinkey.

  6. thinkingman

    The PCSO failed to do a definitive test on those vitamins because it was not desirable to spoil their easy bust! If there are answers you DON’T want to get, drag your feet. IN the meantime, the hapless citizen, held for vitamins, may elect to plead guilty though innocent to SOME charge, just to put the cheap gambit to bed, even if saddled with a conviction for a crime no one committed, bolstering the STATs of Deputy Dolt and his department. Showing productivity is a BIG thing in “Law Enforcement” . Ironically, Crime Prevention is at odds with their measures of productivity ( those being Reports, Traffic Tickets, Arrests, etc . )No wonder the Boys In Blue are hot to fabricate indications of misdeeds!

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