CRIME, POLICE + COURTS

Georgia woman spends three months in jail after police mistake cotton candy for meth

Nov 28, 2018, 2:58 PM | Updated: Nov 29, 2018, 11:11 am

Dasha Fincher's arrest...

Cotton Candy on display at a stall. (Wikimedia Commons)

(Wikimedia Commons)

A Georgia woman named Dasha Fincher spent three months in jail after a Monroe County police drug test mistakenly registered a bag of cotton candy as a methamphetamine, according to a lawsuit filed against both the county and the drug test manufacturer.

The lawsuit is one of many complaints filed against Sirchie Acquisition Co., a drug test company that has been accused of giving false positives on everyday household objects.

The company’s drug tests, in the past, have mistaken sage for marijuana, motor oil for heroin, jolly ranchers for meth, and breath mints for crack, according to The Marshall Project.

In her lawsuit, Fincher and her attorneys contend that Monroe County police should have been aware of the test’s false positives. She is suing for undetermined damages.

Dasha Fincher’s arrest

Cotton candy

Dasha Fincher was arrested for drug trafficking after a piece of cotton candy was found on the passenger side of the car she was in. (Wikimedia Commons)

Fincher’s nightmare began on New Year’s Eve, 2016, when police officers pulled over her and a friend, Dave Maynard Morris Jr.

The pair was driving to a friend’s house in white Toyota Corolla that, according to the police report, had a “very dark window tint”. That tint, it seems, was the reason they were pulled over; the report gives no other explanation for the stop.

Fincher and Morris agreed to let the officers search their car. To their surprise, however, one of the officers came out of the search with a bag full of blue cotton candy, taken from the below the passenger seat, demanding to know what it was.

The officers, in the report, describe the cotton candy as “a plastic bag filled with a blue crystal-like substance.” Despite Fincher’s insistence that it was just candy, they tested it with a Sirchie NARK II drug testing bag, which malfunctioned and indicated that the treat contained methamphetamine.

Fincher and Morris were arrested on the spot and immediately incarcerated. Fincher was charged with drug trafficking, with bail set at $1 million, and, unable to post the exorbitant rate, spent the next three months in jail.

“I just couldn’t believe it was happening,” Fincher said in a statement sent out after she was released.

Those three months were full of tragedies. Fincher missed the birth of her twin grandsons and a miscarriage suffered by her daughter. The frustrations took their toll; at one point, she got angry enough to punch her fist into the jail’s concrete walls, hitting it hard enough to break her hand.

A history of false positives

Nark II Test

The NARK II Fentanyl Reagent test. (Sirchie Acquisitions Co.)

It took until April 2017 before Dasha Fincher was granted her freedom.

A state lab test discovered that the arresting officers’ drug test had given a false positive. The blue bag in the car, they realized, really was nothing more than cotton candy.

The state dropped the charges and Fincher was released. Fincher, however, had already lost three months of her life.

For Fincher, it wasn’t over. She spoke to an attorney and, on Nov. 25, 2018, filed a lawsuit against both the county and Sirchie.

As her lawsuit notes, Fincher isn’t the only person who has been imprisoned because of a faulty NARK II drug test. The NARK II, according to both Fincher’s lawsuit and complaints by The Innocence Project, has a history of false positives.

In one experiment conducted by Hillsborough Police, a lieutenant discovered that all he had to do was open a NARK II bag and it would register the air around it as methamphetamine.

That’s a test that’s been successfully recreated by the Marijuana Policy Project, who, in 2009, again found that the NARK II would flag the air in a room as a controlled narcotic.

According to attorney John Wesley Hall, the NARK II continues to be used because of its low cost. A box of 10 field drug tests sells for about $20.

That price makes it easy to fit into an already stretched budget; but according to Hall, it carries more risks than it’s worth.

“As long as we use cheap tests,” he says, “there’s going to be false positives.”

Sirchie will have the opportunity to defend its product in court, and the allegations against it will be tested in front of a judge and jury.

Fincher, however, hasn’t minced her words. She says: “I want Monroe County to pay for what they did to me.”

More to the story

When KSL Newsradio’s Dave & Dujanovic spoke about this story on the air, Dave Noriega argued that, as terrible as the experience was, the Monroe County police weren’t to blame.

“If you’ve got a test that says, ‘Yes, it’s meth’,” he says, “you gotta trust the test.”

Listen to everything Dave had to say — and hear why his co-host, Debbie Dujanovic, didn’t agree with a word of it — on the Dave & Dujanovic podcast.

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon on KSL Newsradio. Users can find the show on the KSL Newsradio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play.

Listen on Apple PodcastsListen on Google Play Music

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Georgia woman spends three months in jail after police mistake cotton candy for meth