NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Friday, November 18, 2016, 1:21 PM
A truck-driving couple spent two months in jail and lost their jobs after Arkansas police mistook a plastic baggie full of baking soda for a hefty supply of cocaine.
Gale Griffin and her husband, Wendall Harvey, who haul explosives for the U.S. military, said they were detained for eight grueling weeks while they waited for a lab to overturn the in-the-field drug test that detected illegal drugs in their truck.
“We both didn’t think we were going to get out at all,” Griffin told KATV.
The couple’s saga started in May when guards at Fort Chaffee, an Army National Guard facility, performed a routine gate search on the truck the pair uses to ferry weapons for the military.
During the search, agents found several bags of baking soda in the big rig. Griffin, who suffers from a chronic upset stomach, said she buys the powder in bulk and takes it on the board in more portable baggies.
Gale Griffin (l.) and her husband, Wendall Harvey, spent two months in jail after police mistook their baking soda for cocaine.
(NBC 3 News)
“I use baking soda for everything,” she said.
While the couple explained the white substance was just harmless baking soda, police manning the gate were suspicious. They used a portable drug test — a $ 2 kit that is known for its high frequency of false positives — on the substance.
The test said the couple was carrying a controlled substance.
“They thought we had like 13.2 ounces of cocaine,” Griffin said. “The guy said I had over $ 300,000 in cocaine.”
Griffin, who suffers from a chronic upset stomach, said she buys the powder in bulk and takes it on the board in more portable baggies.
(NBC 3 News)
Griffin and Harvey were held at a detention facility for 10 days before the court approved them a public defender. Weeks rolled by before they were assigned a specific attorney. Behind bars, they couldn’t contact their loved ones because they did not have their phone numbers memorized.
“I felt like I was somewhere that didn’t feel like America. I can’t call anybody, nobody knows where I’m at,” Harvey said.
“I thought that I’d died and gone to hell,” Griffin told the TV station.
The couple’s lawyer begged prosecution to expedite the more accurate lab tests, which would prove that the mysterious white powder was only baking soda. Prosecution waited another four weeks before requesting the lab speed up the case.
After they were released from jail, it took the couple another month to get their truck back, they said.
(NBC 3 News)
On July 14 — two months after Griffin and Harvey were first arrested — the lab finally processed the substance. Officials confirmed it was only baking soda.
The truck drivers were released, but it took another month for them to get their impounded truck back. The drug suspicious led the military to deny them security clearances, effectively putting them out of work.
Griffin and Harvey said they’re worried that similar situations may happen to other innocent people, so long as police continue to use the sometimes-faulty tests.
“Two law-abiding ,working people, and there’s no telling how many mistakes they’ve made,” Harvey said. “It’s a mistake, but these mistakes happen quite often I think.”
While police admit that the test is not perfect — as many as 1 in 5 positive results are actually false positives — officials don’t have many alternatives. The $ 2 kit is one of the best portable tests on the market, officials said.
“We’re not chemists, and we don’t roll with a chemistry set in the back of a police car,” Fort Chaffee Police Chief Chuck Bowen told KATV.