Six months in jail thanks to drug test error
TAMPA (FOX 13) - As a U.S. citizen, Doyma Michel often traveled to Mexico to visit family, but June 2, 2014 would be different. As she waited to cross the border in San Ysidro, California, an officer with U.S. Customs and Border Patrol noticed four plastic bottles in her car.
That officer asked her to pull over so they could test the liquid. It would be the beginning of her unbelievable nightmare.
The officer pulled out a field drug test kit called the NARCOPOUCH. Doyma couldn't believe what happened next.
"He said, 'You are arrested.' And I asked why. He said, 'Because you have drugs,'" recalled Doyma.
The substance tested positive for meth. She was immediately arrested, booked, and charged with possession of drugs.
Doyma pleaded with them, insisting that the liquid -- called "cuajo" -- was used to make cheese, not drugs, but they wouldn't listen.
"I pleaded with them please test it accurately, but they stopped me from talking and locked me up," she continued.
Doyma would spend nearly over six months in a federal prison.
"I would plead with them, please, that this was an injustice happening to me," Doyma cried out.
Making matters worse, she says her appointed attorney pressured her to plead guilty to avoid a longer prison sentence. But Doyma refused.
What happened to Doyma is happening all over the county. Our nine-month investigation into field drug tests revealed how faulty the kits are and now innocent people are being falsely arrested because of them.
Top scientists in South Carolina, during a series of controlled tests, explained how Aspirin, coffee, over-the-counter cough medicine, even air triggered a false positive.
After sitting in a California prison for six months, Doyma was set free after a state lab determined the liquid wasn't drugs at all. The test kit got it wrong.
"I thanked God and I cried and I cried," Doyma said.
But the tears have turned into determination. She is going after the government and the manufacturer of the drug test kits.
"I would describe it as tremendous negligence on the government's part," offered Steve Haskins, one of Doyma's attorneys.
Haskins hopes the lawsuit fixes what he describes as a broken justice system.
"That it would encourage the government to stop using these, basically, worthless tests," he explained.
Earlier this year, a Tennessee man named Michael Sullivan settled a lawsuit against SafariLand Group, a manufacturer of drug test kits. Sullivan spent three weeks in jail after several field drug kits tested positive for drugs. Confirmation tests conducted by a state crime lab later determined the substances were not illegal drugs.
Sullivan also sued the arresting law enforcement agency and settled for an undisclosed amount.
John Kelly, author of, "Prevent your Wrongful Drug Convictions with Simple Science," has researched the problems with field drug test kits for years and assisted Sullivan in his case.
As for Doyma Michel, she maybe out of prison, but she says the trauma of what happened to her is never far.
"What happened to me was an injustice," she said with tears in her eyes. "It's a nightmare I still haven't woke up from."