A husband and wife trucking team spent two months behind bars and lost their jobs after Arkansas police mistook bags of baking soda for cocaine.
The incident took place in May of 2016 but has only now started to garner national media attention.
Nightmare Begins During Routine Inspection
Driver Gale Griffin and her husband Wendall Harvey have been on the road together since 2009. Griffin, who says that she uses baking soda for “everything”, buys it in bulk and then keeps it in small baggies in the truck for the sake of convenience.
The pair were working as explosives haulers for the military when they rolled through Fort Chaffee on May 8.
White Substance Tests Positive For Cocaine
During a routine inspection, Fort Chaffee police found several baggies of a white powder in the couple’s truck. The trucking couple told police that the substance was baking soda, but the substance in the baggie tested positive for cocaine three separate times.
Though Harvey is a former police officer, he said he was so shocked in the moment that it never occurred to him that the tests could be wrong: “You don’t even doubt the tests because I guess I’m stupid, I’m just a citizen and it never occurred to me that the tests were invalid.”
Griffin and Harvey were arrested and charged with transporting $300,000 worth of cocaine. Harvey was so taken aback that he didn’t even know how to react: “I told him, ‘I’ve never had two nickels to rub together, are you crazy?’ 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 couple sat in a detention center for 10 days before they were even assigned a public defender. Without the phone numbers of loved ones memorized, they were unable to contact family or friends for help for weeks. Griffin says that at one point, her jail cell was so full of other inmates that the only place to sleep was on the floor by the toilet.
Couple Spends Two Months In Jail Fighting Through Red Tape
It took weeks to be assigned a specific attorney, and then several more weeks for the lab to perform more sophisticated tests on the substance in the baggies.
On July 14, the lab results came back. The substance was proved to be baking soda and the couple was finally released.
Truckers Lost Jobs And Security Clearance
It took Griffin and Harvey several more weeks to get their impounded truck back. When they did, they said that it was severely damaged.
The couple lost their jobs, their security clearance, and their good name. They are working to get back their security clearance and they are still looking for work.
How could the police have made such a dangerous mistake?
Cheap Drug Test Is Notorious For False Positives
The Fort Chaffee police were using a $2 Narcotics Identification Kit (NIK) — a test which one study found returned false positives 21% of the time.
When asked about the incident, Fort Chaffee’s Chief Bowden replied, “We’re not chemists, and we don’t roll with a chemistry set in the back of a police car. It’s one of the best ones on the market that we can find, so it will have to be the one that we will stay with.”