A man who was arrested for possession of "methamphetamine" that turned out to be donut glaze recently received $37,500 from the city of Orlando for his trouble. The payment settles a lawsuit that Daniel Rushing, a 65-year-old retiree who used to work for the city's Parks Department, brought after a traffic stop that illustrates the limits of drug field tests and the cops who perform them.
Cpl. Shelby Riggs-Hopkins pulled Rushing over on the afternoon of December 11, 2015, ostensibly because he did not make a complete stop as he pulled out of a 7-Eleven parking lot and subsequently exceeded the speed limit. But those offenses seem to have been pretexts. Riggs-Hopkins had been keeping an eye on the convenience store because of "citizen complaints about drug activity" and thought it was suspicious that Rushing, who was giving a lift to a friend, left without buying anything, in the company of a "black female employee of the 7-11."
When Rushing opened his wallet to retrieve his driver's license, Riggs-Hopkins noticed that he had a concealed-carry permit and asked if he was armed. He said he was, and she asked him to get out of his car "for my safety." At that point Riggs-Hopkins "observed in plain view a rock-like substance on the floor board where his feet were." The eagle-eyed, street-savvy cop recalled that she "recognized, through my eleven years of training and experience as a law enforcement officer, the substance to be some sort of narcotic." The suspect "stated that the substance is sugar from a Krispy Kreme Donut that he ate," but Riggs-Hopkins knew better: Two field tests of the "rock-like substance" gave "a positive indication for the presence of amphetamines."
Rushing said Riggs-Hopkins initially was not sure what "sort of narcotic" she had discovered. "I kept telling them, 'That's…glaze from a doughnut," Rushing told the Orlando Sentinel. "They tried to say it was crack cocaine at first. Then they said, 'No, it's meth, crystal meth.'"
Adding insult to injury, Rushing was accused of possessing meth "with a weapon" (his legally carried handgun), which made a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison, into a second-degree felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison. He was handcuffed and taken to the county jail, where he was strip-searched and locked up for 10 hours before being released on $2,500 bail. Three days later, after a lab test found no illegal substance in the evidence recovered by Riggs-Hopkins, the charges against Rushing were dropped. The lab test was not specific enough to identify which brand of donut the glaze came from, so we'll just have to take Rushing's word that it was indeed a Krispy Kreme.
Rushing told the Sentinel he had tried to start a security business but could not find work because "people go online and see that you've been arrested." The Orlando Police Department (OPD) initially defended the arrest. But according to the Sentinel, the OPD "ended up training more than 730 officers on how to properly use the field test kits," and "Riggs-Hopkins was given a written reprimand for making an improper arrest."
In addition to the city of Orlando, Rushing sued the Safariland Group, which made the test kit used by Riggs-Hopkins. Although the OPD evidently attributes the two false positives that preceded Rushing's arrest to Riggs-Hopkins' inept performance of the drug test, such field kits are notoriously unreliable and may react to a wide range of legal substances. Faulty field tests were at the center of a 2012 Kansas marijuana raid triggered by loose tea, a case that last summer resulted in a rebuke by a federal appeals court panel. One of the judges faulted "junk science" as well as "an incompetent investigation" and a thirst for publicity.
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