There is a bizarre case in Orlando where Daniel Rushing was arrested after a police officer declared that she recognized meth on the floor of his car from her extensive experience. It not only turned out to be icing from Rushing’s Krispy Kreme donut but Rushing told the officers what it was when they asked. To make matters worse, a field test registered positive for meth — another false positive in a long line of such cases.
Rushing was stopped on a clear pretext stop. He was told that he did not come to a complete stop in exiting a 7-11 (which was under surveillance for alleged drug activity). He was also cited for going 42 mph in a 30 mph zone — another ubiquitous violation. In a controversial case from over twenty years ago in Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, 812–13 (1996). The Court ruled that police could conduct a pretextual stop, such a stop for minor traffic violations, to achieve a search so long as there is probable cause or reasonable suspicion to justify a traffic stop.
Once they stopped Rushing, the officers asked to search his car and he consented. Cpl. Shelby Riggs-Hopkins, an eight-year department veteran, she spotted “a rock like substance on the floor board where his feet were. . . I recognized through my eleven years of training and experience as a law enforcement officer the substance to be some sort of narcotic.”
That alone was dubious but then the officers said that they did two roadside drug tests and both came back positive for the illegal substance. Rushing was handcuffed, arrested, strip searched and jailed. Only later did a lab test show that the substance was not drugs.
Conveniently, the police department insisted that it has no data on the number of false positive from field tests. That would seem an example of willful blindness since the department should be interested in whether it is getting false readings. The New York Times has found that data showed that 21 percent of the time, drug evidence that was listed by local authorities as methamphetamine turned out to be wrong.
A lawsuit in such a circumstance would not only be advisable but potentially beneficial in deterring such abusive arrests.