Cops Mistake Jolly Ranchers for Meth
A Brooklyn man who was arrested for possession of what cops thought were rocks of meth but ended up being Jolly Ranchers is now suing the New York City Police Department.
Last June, Love Olantunjiojo, 25, and a friend bought some Jolly Ranchers candy at the It’Sugar candy store in Coney Island, according to news reports. When NYPD cops stopped the two men several blocks away, they searched them.
Believing the red and blue Jolly Ranchers to be a new form of crystal meth, they arrested Olantunjiojo and his friend and locked Olantunjiojo up for 24 hours. The cops say they ran a field test on the candy and got a positive for narcotics.
Although a subsequent lab test revealed their mistake, the Brooklyn district attorney’s office waited until September to dismiss charges against both men. On Oct. 15, Olantunjiojo sued the NYPD in federal court, alleging false arrest, illegal search and seizure, and false imprisonment.
According to news reports about the complaint, the officer who arrested Olantunjiojo claimed to have had professional training in identifying methamphetamines. Apparently the series Breaking Bad featured crystal meth disguised as blue rock candy and the drug is being sold today on the street in different colors.
Results in Left Field
In Olantunjiojo’s case, “[h]e will have to show it was unreasonable for the police to have believed he was in possession of drugs,” explains criminal defense lawyer Steve Raiser with Raiser & Kenniff in New York. “Jolly Rancher candies is a pretty blatant demonstration of unreasonableness.”
But, adds, Raiser, the case will likely come down to the field test. If it was conducted properly, and the right procedures were followed, the cops will likely be in the clear, because they would have then been acting with probable cause.
“If the field test was positive then the police will have to demonstrate proper procedures were followed,” Raiser says. “If they were, then there needs to be a full-scale investigation into field testing, which should not be relied upon for any new cases until it is resolved.”
Even if the NYPD gets off the hook in this case, they will likely face problems in the future. “Moving forward they are on notice about the unreliability of these tests,” Raiser says, adding that “if there is an inherent issue in the testing, the police may be responsible for that as well.”
Drugs, Candy, Whatever!
Raiser says suits for mistaken drug identity are not a rarity. “These suits are not uncommon because false arrests are not uncommon,” he says. “The police have to have enough training in drug detection to be able to distinguish between candy and drugs. If they can’t, [then] they can’t assume what they find are drugs.”
“If they don’t know, then there is no probable cause and they cannot arrest,” he adds. “Often times an accused person will simply admit they are drugs, confirming an officer’s suspicions and creating probable cause to arrest. A proper field test would rectify this issue but apparently that is where the problem lies.”
It’s also not uncommon for a busy DA’s office to wait several months before dismissing charges, Raiser observes. “He is fortunate he was not in jail for that period of time,” he says. “The DA’s offices are very backed up and sadly the DA’s top priority is not finding cases where individuals are improperly charged.”