A South Carolina man is trying to put his life back together after a drug identification error led to his false arrest for trafficking cocaine.
Kim Kimzey of The State recently covered Lewis Thomas' experiences in an extremely well-written piece, and, for obvious reasons, the story is on the verge of going viral.
South Carolina police reported that 1 1/2 pounds of white powder was found in Thomas’ pickup truck when an officer stopped him for not using his turn signal late one night in July 2010, reports The State. A field test showed that the substance was cocaine, and a police dog also “alerted” the Spartanburg County sheriff’s office that it was a narcotic.
But Thomas, 58, insisted it was just lime. His wife had asked him to bring some back from work because she thought something was decaying under their house.
"When they come to the conclusion that it was cocaine, I told them in response, 'That's lime. That's not cocaine. You can spread it out there on the ground. I'll just get some more from my job," Thomas said.
A chemist tested the powder and found no evidence that it was a controlled substance. The drug trafficking charge was dismissed — but not before Thomas’ mug shot was printed in the local paper.
"They was so bent on me being a distributor, I imagine that's one of the reasons they didn't too much care," Thomas said.
Thomas was held in jail on $100,000 bond without contact with his family, who worried about his whereabouts. Thomas had been working the late shift at the warehouse where he was employed. By the time he was arrested, it was 9 a.m., and he’d had no contact with his wife. He was released later that day.
Thomas ended up losing his full-time job because he couldn’t go to work or call his employer. Furthermore, his pick-up truck was seized when he was arrested, and he couldn’t afford the impound fee to get it back.
Suing for false arrest, Thomas received a $5,000 settlement from the South Carolina Insurance Reserve Fund. But it’s not enough, says Thomas.
Thomas works part-time but is still searching for a full-time job.
According to Lt. Ashley Harris, a chemist with the Spartanburg County sheriff's office, 6 percent of substances tested in 2013 were ruled “No Controlled or Prescription Substance(s) Detected.” While the “presumptive” field test the police officers used showed that the lime was cocaine, the more sophisticated “confirmatory” test revealed it was not, letting Thomas walk free — but not before the arrest could seriously derail his life.
Source: The State