Florida Man Jailed 41 Days Over 92 Grams of…Laundry Detergent

Spoiler alert: It wasn't heroin.


Screenshot via WPEC; Anetlanda/Dreamstime.com

A Florida man spent 41 days behind bars after police found a powdery white substance in his van last month. Spoiler alert: It wasn't drugs.

Matthew Crull, 28, of Port St. Lucie, was sitting in his newly purchased van on December 5 when Martin County Sheriff's Office deputies arrived at the KFC parking lot where he had fallen asleep. Someone had reported the vehicle as suspicious, so police were investigating.

When deputies searched his van, they found marijuana, a beer in the cup holder, and a bag with 92 grams of a white powder in it. Deputy Steven O'Leary claimed to have conducted a field drug test on the powder, and said it tested positive for heroin.

"I just looked at him baffled and confused because I had no idea as to where 92 grams of heroin came from inside my van," Crull told WPTV later.

"I really freaked out," he added to WBPF. "I started panicking and didn't really know what to think."

Crull was right to be surprised. He says the alleged heroin was actually laundry detergent. But the truth wouldn't come out until much later. After his arrest, Crull was jailed for 41 days and charged with trafficking heroin. Due to the severity of the charges, there was no way he could afford bond.

"It made the situation very real. [The judge] raised my bond to $100k to half a million dollars, so there was really no way I was getting out of jail," he told WPEC. Crull admits that he's been in trouble with the law before, but nothing this serious. "In the past, when I have gone to jail, it's been something where I knew I wasn't going to be there forever. It's a lot different than going to jail and the charge of trafficking of heroin carries a penalty of 25 years in prison," he explained to WPTV.

Crull was eventually released, though not before he spent Christmas and New Year's behind bars, after the sheriff's office tested the "heroin" again and discovered the truth. The trafficking charge was dropped, as was the count of marijuana possession.

This sort of story is more common than you might think. Reason has previously written about police misidentifying cotton candy and donut glaze for meth. In another case, North Carolina police bragged about a massive fentanyl bust, only to learn later that they had confiscated 13 pounds of sugar. The culprit in each of these cases were field test kits that provided false positives. Washington Post journalist (and former Reason staffer) Radley Balko even has a handy list of some of the things misidentified as drugs by field tests.

Crull's case, meanwhile, may have been part of a larger scandal that had nothing to do with malfunctioning field drug tests. The arresting deputy, O'Leary, has been fired after the sheriff's office discovered other discrepancies. In three recent narcotics arrests, O'Leary claimed field tests had revealed drugs. Further crime lab testing revealed that wasn't true.

O'Leary, who had been a Martin County sheriff's deputy since February 2018, had made about 80 drug arrests before being terminated. All of those are now under review, and 11 people, including Crull, have already been freed.

"It would have been a travesty to risk leaving anyone in jail," Sheriff William Snyder said at a press conference Monday, explaining that some of those released did have drugs in their possession, just not as much as O'Leary had initially claimed.

"It's better that 100 guilty people go free than one innocent person goes to jail," Snyder added. "Our goal is always justice, and there was more than enough reasonable doubt on our part on all those arrests that we would not have left anyone in jail one more minute."

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  1. Florida Man Jailed 41 Days Over 92 Grams of…Laundry Detergent

    He was clean!

  2. I’m kind of surprised the officer was really held accountable.

    1. O’Leary really wasn’t held accountable. He was only fired. He lied about the results of field tests, and lied about quantities recovered. Resulting in people being arrested for crimes they didn’t commit. He should be jailed.

    2. He’s lucky the officer didn’t take the time to nab some real drugs from the evidence room, and replace his laundry detergent with it.

  3. Ancient Chinese secret prison, eh?

  4. Yet another reason to cheer when a cop is shot in the face

    1. Stupid

      1. When SparkY is shot in the face?

        1. How many cops have you shot as they were zigzagging through your kill zone?

          1. None yet. Hope it never comes to that.

            You’ll know because it will be national news that an entire SWAT is gone, they can’t find me, and one of the SWAT guys twitter account is blowing up with pork jokes.

    2. I’m not about to cheer anyone being shot in the face.

      Sometimes it is morally justified, though.

      1. Hitler shot himself in the face.

        Cheer or jeer?

  5. stay out of Six Toe County

  6. Martin County Sheriff William Snyder distancing his department from O’Leary Monday.

    “No matter what we do, no matter how hard we try, just based on the law of possibilities there’s always a possibility that one bad apple will slip through,” Snyder said.


    1. Given the quotes from the sheriff at the end of the article and the fact that O’Leary got fired, I think the sheriff can get a pass on this one. It’s better than expected.

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  8. “…the KFC parking lot where he had fallen asleep. Someone had reported the vehicle as suspicious, so police were investigating.”

    Saw something, said something, and look what happened. Must have thought it was a creeper van and maybe he was sex trafficking?

  9. Another great example of why we need a loser-pays, not just with private litigation but public charges as well.

    The state charges someone and can’t prove their case, they pay for damages (preferably with some of the money coming out of the pocket of those responsible, whether the arresting officers, the prosecutor, whoever contributed to the mistake).

    1. Damn straight! Loser pays would go a long ways towards making the State accountable. And the payment should cover all costs — lost wages, property maintenance from disuse (dead car battery, house repairs), case costs (lawyering, investigations, FOIA fees), every single cost which would not have been incurred absent the prosecution.

      Eventually someone might notice that the cops are a net loss which even asset forfeiture couldn’t make up.

      Victim prosecution would help too, but is much less likely; even if it ever became popular, the government would still prosecute “on behalf of the public”.

    2. What we really need is an end to qualified immunity for cops and criminal penalties for police misconduct.

      1. It should be replaved with somethimg similar to the Park doctrine.


  10. But deez is a nation of Lawz!! Of LAWZ, I tell you! How can you show such disrespect for law enforcement officers whose job is to keep us safe from laundry detergent and powder sugar traffickers? Don’t you know those things pour over from the southern border carried by cantaloupe-legged human mules who drive better cars than the Border Patrol and leave their praying rugs on the desert? By the BILLIONS! Build the moat! Or fence, whatever.

    1. Haha you are dumb.

  11. It’s pretty clear these field tests are about as reliable as a dog sniffing for contraband. Still good enough for government work I guess.

    1. Worse. A dog probably is capable of distinguishing between specific different substances by smell, but would rather please its handler. The tests are just pure bullshit.

  12. It’s absolutely ridiculous that field tests like these are still used. Assuming the aim is to correctly identify certain substances (which is a big assumption), they are worse than useless. One false positive should be enough to discredit the tests entirely as sources of probable cause or reasonable suspicion or whatever it is.

    1. “Field Tests” for police always have a bad track record.

      Field Sobriety Tests don’t prove shit, only that you cannot touch your finger to your nose- you cannot walk a straight line- schools are so bad that people cannot count backwards.

      1. Never agree to police Field Sobriety Tests, BTW.

        To quote Admiral Ackbar “It’s a trap!”

  13. As if we didn’t already know…..government FUCKS EVERYTHING UP!!! Of course, our idiot government will do NOTHING to reimburse this man, and when they make the same mistake, as they will sooner or later, they will still not be punished. CUT GOVERNMENT BY 50% EVERYWHERE, especially the police and legal departments.

  14. I’ve come to the point that I no longer believe these false positives were positives at all. The cops just lie about the tests so they can arrest someone. So they can get the kudos for the big heroin bust. They know they never get in trouble for tossing innocents in jail. Besides, this guy wasn’t innocent, he had some pot. Who you gonna believe, the cops or some pot head?

    And so it keeps on happening.

    We need to be taking these police departments into court and suing them for everything they have. We need to be tossing the bad cops in jail. We need to be voting out every last police chief.

  15. He also had that drug trafficking mullet working against him. If you’re dealing with corrupt police, you need to have your pants pulled up, no facial hair, and for god’s sake, no mullet. Then maybe you’ll have a chance.

    1. It’s Florida. White dudes are required to have mullets.

  16. many false positives in drug screening.


    High sensitivity low specificity.

    1. That’s why the only thing screening tests are supposed to lead to is running a more accurate, but more expensive test. Nobody sensible takes any other action based on a “screening” test, that’s what the “screening” means.

      1. Exactly what a screening exam is. Yet it is used to incarcerate people.

        Poppy seed bagel will test positive for opiates.

  17. This is Crull and unusual punishment

    1. Krull…

  18. “Someone had reported the vehicle as suspicious, so police were investigating.”

    Don’t just sue the cops. Sue the damn busybodies. Use whatever legal means to find out who it is. If she or he cannot be sued, she or he needs to be harassed until she or he is driven out of the community.

    In Mesa, AZ last year, a cop got away with murder after a (female) busybody saw a man in a motel room holding a handgun that turned out to be a pellet gun. The cop ordered the man to crawl down the motel hallway towards him WITH HIS LEGS CROSSED. The man, who had no criminal record, attempted to comply but his trousers, hastily put on to answer the door, started to slide down. In a kneejerk reaction, he tried to pull them up and received five bullets and a ticket to the graveyard. Cops can get away with anything because they’re ‘heroes’ (not).

  19. Next time, stick to Tide Pods.

  20. Meh, I appreciate the anti-authority/anti-cop bias on this site, but this isn’t a person without some guilt and he’s alive and well 42 days later with a probable payout of more than he has made in his entire life.

    I understand the barrage of slippery slope posts that are to come, but really, this is what you guys are all upset about? Sounds like a bunch of low-level stoners hoping to justify their last or next arrest.

  21. In an ideal view, the police are working on behalf of society at large. We grant the justice system with great powers to rob a fellow citizen of their freedoms, livelihoods, and families (dominoes that fall once incarcerated.)

    To balance the injustice that some members of our citizenry suffer, society should compensate them and make them whole again. That would include lost wages, intercession of the police ombudsman in securing the previous job, restoring a damaged credit record were any payments missed, and anything else to make things right to the degree they were when his life was first interrupted.

    What percent of the population could weather 41 days in the can, and not have every aspect of their life, work, and family screwed for years to come.

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