For two-and-a-half months, Gale Griffin and her husband, Wendell Harvey, a military couple with top security clearance, sat in an Arkansas jail after bags of baking soda tested positive for cocaine because of a faulty drug-test kit used by police.
“I felt cut off from reality; it felt very strange—someplace that doesn’t feel like America to me,” Harvey told KUTV.
Griffin and Harvey are from Draper, Utah. They work as military truck drivers who transport explosives. In May they were driving through Fort Chaffee, Ark., when police stopped them. The couple weren’t the least bit concerned during the stop, even when the officer pulled three Baggies filled with a white powdery substance from the truck.
“I told them, ‘That’s baking soda,’” Harvey said.
The police tested the substance.
“We tested it three different times,” Chuck Bowen, with the Fort Chaffee police, told the news station. “We got a positive conclusion each time we tested.”
Police told the couple they were in serious trouble.
“He said, ‘You have over $3,000 in cocaine,’” Griffin said.
“I told him, ‘I’ve never had two nickels to rub together; are you crazy?’” Griffin said. “Then [the police officer] said, ‘I’ve never had two nickels to rub together either, but now I’m the owner of your truck.’”
The police took their truck and tossed the couple in jail. Griffin and Harvey were unable to pay the $10,000 bail, so they sat in jail for over two months.
“It was just crawling with bugs—it was unbelievably cold, blasting, blasting cold air,” Griffin told KUTV.
She was allowed out of her cell for only one hour each day.
“For the first three or four weeks, I just shivered. I didn’t have any socks,” Griffin said.
Thankfully, the Arkansas Public Defender’s Office insisted that the substance be tested again, and all of the tests came back negative, indicating that the substance was not cocaine.
Turns out that the Scott Reagent Field Test, used in the couple’s case, and used by most police departments throughout the country to test for cocaine, has a history of false positives.
“They are not infallible; they are subject to misreading,” Greg Parrish, with the Arkansas Public Defender’s Office, told KUTV.
For example, according to KUTV, field tests conducted 2010-2013 by Las Vegas authorities found that 33 percent of Scott Reagent Field Tests were false positives.
In addition, the news station conducted its own investigation and ordered several Scott Reagent Field tests, which cost around $2 a piece, and then tested 10 household items, including, “Comet, aspirin, cold medicine and chocolate.”
Four of the 10 items resulted in a false positive.
Sgt. Spencer Cannon with the Utah County Sheriff’s Office told the news station, “I’m not saying it doesn’t happen—it’s just I’m not aware of a case we’ve dealt with where that is the case.”
However, Salt Lake County Prosecutor Sim Gill told the news station that if there are problems with the test, then that is concerning.
“If the prosecution is going to move forward, we are going to insist on that it has a lab test or a [toxicology] review is done that will actually confirm that the substance in the field is what the officer believed it to be,” Gill said.
But for Harvey and Griffin, the headache continues. They have been released from jail but have lost their security clearance, which they are trying to get back. Their truck, which police impounded, was damaged and now needs major repairs. And the couple are running out of money.
While they are happy to be free from their monthslong nightmare, Harvey can’t help wondering how many other people have been victimized by these faulty tests.
“If they did what they did to us—you know, two law-abiding citizens—there’s no telling how many mistakes they’ve made,” Harvey said.
Read more at KUTV.