One truck-driving couple lost their jobs and their truck and spent two months locked behind bars because Arkansas police made a big mistake: They believed a plastic bag full of baking soda was cocaine.
"We both didn't think we were going to get out at all," Gail Griffin told KATV-TV of her unfortunate stint in prison.
Griffin and her husband, Wendall Harvey, who transport explosives for the U.S. military, were detained in prison for eight weeks while they awaited lab results that would eventually overturn the $2 field test — which is known for giving false positives but is used extensively throughout the country — the officers conducted when they first searched the drivers' 18-wheeler.
The entire ordeal began in May, when officers at Fort Chaffee, an Army National Guard facility, performed a routine truck search at the gate. During their search, guards found several baggies full of baking soda. Suffering from chronic stomach pains, Griffin said she buys the powder in bulk and carries it with her on every trip because she uses it "for everything."
But the cops didn't buy it.
"They thought we had like 13.2 ounces of cocaine," Griffin said. "The guy said I had over $300,000 in cocaine."
The couple was held at a detention center for 10 days before they were approved for a court-appointed attorney and weeks went by before they actually secured a public defender. And they weren't allowed to 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," Harvey lamented. "I can't call anybody; nobody knows where I am."
"I thought that I'd died and gone to hell," Griffin added.
Despite pressure from the couple's lawyer to expedite a more accurate lab test, the prosecution waited an additional four weeks after the couple retained an attorney before they put a rush on the substance test. Even after all this, the police department plans to keep using the faulty drug tests on the field.
"We're not chemists," Fort Chaffee Police Chief Chuck Bowen said, "and we don't roll with a chemistry set in the back of a police car."
Needless to say, Harvey is worried other people will fall victim to similar mistakes.
"Two law-abiding, working people, and there's no telling how many mistakes they've made," he said. "It was a mistake. But these mistakes happen quite often, I think."