Florida man’s ‘heroin’ was actually laundry detergent — proving the drug war insanity needs to end now

Florida man’s ‘heroin’ was actually laundry detergent — proving the drug war insanity needs to end now
Local Input~ [PNG Merlin Archive] A client administers drugs at Insite, a safe injection site on Hastings Street in Vancouver. Handout photo

Far-right policies that harm people of color in the United States—the erosion of the social safety net, the undermining of constitutional liberties—have a way of metastasizing and finding their way to white Americans as well. And nowhere is that more evident than with the War on Drugs, which is as classist as it is racist. Many victims of mass incarceration, the Prison/Industrial Complex (described by author Michelle Alexander as “the new Jim Crow”) and militarized drug raids have been people of color, but White America is by no means immune to the War on Drugs’ cancerous effects—and Florida resident Matthew Crull received a painful reminder of that fact when he spent 41 days in jail for heroin possession. Problem: the “heroin” was actually laundry detergent.

Although Crull is white, his ordeal sounds like something one would hear about in an angry protest song from Ice Cube, Public Enemy, KRS-1 or other rappers who have lambasted the United States’ criminal justice system. The ordeal started on December 5, 2018 after the 28-year-old Crull pulled into a KFC parking lot in Martin County, Florida. Crull was approached by Deputy Steven O’Leary of the Martin County Sheriff's Office, and he was arrested after a white powder was found in his vehicle.

When a field test was performed, the substance was determined to be heroin (92 grams of it, to be exact). Crull was arrested, charged with heroin possession and drug trafficking and held in the county jail for 41 days. Bail was set at $500,000 dollars.

Crull maintained his innocence. But he was finally released after a crime lab tested the substance and found that sure enough, he was telling the truth: it was laundry detergent, not heroin.

Crull, it turned out, was only one of at least 11 people falsely arrested on drug charges in Martin County; authorities found that the results of field drug tests were being falsified. O’Leary was fired, and Florida authorities have been reviewing all of his cases.

In an interview with ABC affiliate WPTV, Crull explained that when he was arrested, “I just looked at (O’Leary) baffled and confused because I had no idea as to where 92 grams of heroin came from inside my van.” And he told another local television station, WYFF, “I’m not saying he ruined my life, but he definitely caused me a lot of emotional distress and a lot of stress on my family.”

Crull is hardly the only American who has been victimized by the guilty-until-proven-innocent mentality that has characterized the War on Drugs and the Prison/Industrial Complex. There have been many other human rights violations as well.

Macon, Georgia resident Dasha Fincher spent three months in jail in late 2016/early 2017 after a substance found in her car tested positive for meth. But upon closer examination, the substance was found to be cotton candy—and the meth trafficking charge she faced was dropped.

In January 2013, New Mexico resident David Eckert was forced to undergo a colonoscopy as part of a drug-related investigation.

Police didn’t find any drugs after pulling Eckert over and searching his vehicle, but they claimed he was hiding drugs in his anal cavity and demanded he undergo a colonoscopy and receive enemas. Eckert complied, and no drugs were found.

After filing a lawsuit, Eckert was awarded $1.6 million—and rightly so. His 4th Amendment rights were clearly violated.

Another innocent victim of the War on Drugs was Florida resident Penny Spence, who in 2005, was facing the possibility of 25 years in prison for possessing 48 Percocet pain pills without a prescription. The pills (which she borrowed from her sister because of her back pain) were 99% Tylenol, but as far as prosecutors were concerned, they might as well have been heroin or crystal meth because Florida drug laws were going by weight. Spence refused to plead guilty because she had hopes of becoming a nurse; eventually, she pled no contest and was sentenced to three years of probation and one year of house arrest—which, insanely, made her a convicted felon.

Then there was the 2014 case in which militarized narcotics officers in Georgia conducted a no-knock drug raid on the home of Alecia Phonesavanh. The SWAT team didn’t find the suspected meth dealer they were looking for, but they did toss a flashbang grenade into the crib of her 19-month-old toddler, Bounkham Phonesavanh, and critically injured him.

Another victim of the War on Drugs is Killeen, Texas resident Marvin Louis Guy, who has been incarcerated since May 2014 for shooting and killing narcotics officer Charles Dinwiddie during a no-knock drug raid. Guy has maintained that he acted in self-defense because he thought he was being robbed, and that he legitimately believed he was becoming the victim of a violent home invasion. The evidence strongly suggests that Guy was merely a recreational drug user rather than a drug dealer.

In December 2018, another pre-trial hearing was held for Guy, who is still facing capital murder charges and could be sentenced to death. Guy is African-American, and Texas has a long history of sending people of color to Death Row.

The United States has, hands down, the highest incarceration rates in the world—higher than Saudi Arabia, higher than the People’s Republic of China, higher than Iran, higher than Russia under President Vladimir Putin. And the War on Drugs, which was declared by President Richard Nixon in the late 1960s/early 1970s and escalated by President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, is the #1 factor. The United States’ draconian drug laws have been carried out with an end-justifies-the-means mindset, encouraging widespread abuses on the part of law enforcement and the criminal justice system.

President Donald Trump has been sending out very mixed signals when it comes to the War on Drugs. On one hand, he has called for the death penalty for drug dealers and praised the abuses of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte (whose drug war has resulted in literally thousands of deaths). But Trump has occasionally acknowledged the need for reforming U.S. drug laws. Trump granted a presidential pardon to Alice Marie Johnson, who was serving a life sentence for a first-time nonviolent drug offense—and the 63-year-old Johnson (who was convicted in 1996) was present when Trump gave his 2019 State of the Union address on February 5.

With House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Mike Pence standing behind him, Trump told Congress and members of his administration, “Alice’s story underscores the disparities and unfairness that can exist in criminal sentencing, and the need to remedy this total injustice. She served almost that 22 years, and had expected to be in prison for the remainder of her life. In June, I commuted Alice’s sentence.”

The pardon had a hip-hop connection: rapper Kanye West (an avowed Trump supporter) and his wife Kim Kardashian encouraged the president to pardon Johnson. But that pardon probably wouldn’t have come about if two major celebrities hadn’t brought Johnson’s case to Trump’s attention.

Matthew Crull can’t get back the 41 days of his life that were stolen. And unless the United States’ insane War on Drugs ends, there will inevitably be many more innocent victims.


Understand the importance of honest news ?

So do we.

The past year has been the most arduous of our lives. The Covid-19 pandemic continues to be catastrophic not only to our health - mental and physical - but also to the stability of millions of people. For all of us independent news organizations, it’s no exception.

We’ve covered everything thrown at us this past year and will continue to do so with your support. We’ve always understood the importance of calling out corruption, regardless of political affiliation.

We need your support in this difficult time. Every reader contribution, no matter the amount, makes a difference in allowing our newsroom to bring you the stories that matter, at a time when being informed is more important than ever. Invest with us.

Make a one-time contribution to Alternet All Access, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you.

Click to donate by check.

DonateDonate by credit card
Donate by Paypal
{{ post.roar_specific_data.api_data.analytics }}