By Jacob Sullum
When police in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey, pulled Darren Richardson over, it was supposedly because he had narrowly avoided a collision at an intersection. After they detected what they later described as a "strong odor of raw marijuana," they impounded Richardson's black BMW 325i and tore it apart over the course of three weeks with the help of drug-sniffing dogs, causing more than $12,000 in damages—so much that Richardson's insurer declared the car totaled. They found nothing. NJ.com reports that the September 23 incident "has led to an internal affairs investigation by the Pompton Lakes Police Department, opened the door for litigation that could cost local taxpayers and left experts wondering whether the department wasted resources in pursuit of what many see as a minor crime."
In addition to trashing his car, police charged Richardson with evidence tampering and resisting arrest (because he argued with them). They charged his passenger with making "terroristic threats." After it turned out there was no evidence to tamper with, the charges were reduced to "petty disorderly persons offenses." Police claimed two different dogs "signaled" the presence of drugs (in two different locations, the trunk and the dashboard) and speculated that the car may have been used to transport marijuana at some point in the past.
More on pot-sniffing cops here and here. More on drug-sniffing dogs here.