Putting law enforcement's drug testing kits to the test

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Wednesday, August 21, 2019
News 12 at 6 O'Clock/NBC at 7

(WRDW/WAGT) -- Remember the Georgia Southern quarterback who was arrested last month in South Carolina? A field testing kit mistook bird droppings on his car for cocaine. Body camera shows the white substance on the hood of Shai Werts's car and the conversation with deputies.

"...you can see it on the windshield. That's not birdpoop. I swear to god that's bird doo-doo. That's not bird poop..."

After that the deputy and Saluda Police officers tested it. The field kit turned pink, which is a positive for cocaine. Unfortunately, this happens more often then we think. News 12 digs into how accurate these kits really are.

A field test kit can determine your fate, depending on the color it turns. But sometimes innocent people wind up in jail for a false positive.

The test kits cost a couple of bucks each. In Columbia County only the narcotics team carries them. Investigator Cooper can't show his face and share his whole name because he works undercover. He says there's a different test kit for each drug.

"It reacts with the narcotic or controlled substance that was put in there and turns a specific color," Investigator Cooper said.

Each drug is represented as a different color. The kit Cooper is holding tests for marijuana.

"In this case, this one will turn to shades of purple," Cooper said, "Which indicates a positive test for THC."

News 12's Lia Fernandez: "How reliable are these tests?"

Cooper: "I have never personally had one tell me anything different than what it is."

But it's happened. In Georgia breathe mints, cotton candy and vitamins have all led to an arrest.

Lt. Randall Norman with Burke County helped us put these kits to the test.

"If the sugar turns to a brown/bronze color then you'll know that it is meth," Norman said.

The deputy is supposed to drop a sample into the pouch, seal it and then follow instructions.

"So this one has three different valves inside of it and so you'll break the first one I'll allow the solution to sit just for a few seconds, then I'll move onto number two," Cooper said.

It releases a series of chemicals.

"We'll break number three," Norman said as he popped the valve.

If the final color matches the color on the pouch the test is positive for drugs. They can also use test reagent, a pink liquid to test for cocaine.

The Splenda and pixie sticks came up negative. The aspirin wasn't so lucky.

"So you place a small droplet on your sample and if it is positive the substance will turn blue," Norman said.

It's supposed to react right away. It didn't, but a few seconds later the pill turns blue. It's a reaction a deputy could easily interpret as a positive test. Just like the test we did on cotton candy, it shows specs of brown, but it's supposed to be a full brown to be considered meth.

In Georgia, they'll arrest you if the kits show a positive but won't charge you until GBI runs a lab test. But some states allow the preliminary test to be enough for a conviction. In South Carolina, they will arrest and charge you on the spot.