JSO says its cocaine test kits are unreliable. Could that lead to charges being dropped?

JSO discontinued use of Scott Company test kits after getting multiple false positives

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A ripple effect that could lead to drug charges in Jacksonville being thrown out.

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office on Thursday announced it has stopped using a field kit that tests for cocaine after the agency said it was inaccurate with false positives.

Now at least three other local agencies are following suit and prosecutors and defense attorneys said they’re reviewing current cases where certain charges might get dropped.

But the company’s CEO is standing by his product and said the kits are not faulty.

It’s a test Jacksonville sheriff’s officers have been using for more than 10 years. The kit from Scott Company lets officers test cocaine in the field and it’s long been presumptive — only enough for probable cause.

News4JAX witnessed police using the test when the I-TEAM rode with task forces, but now JSO says the kits are flawed.

What we’ve done since we discovered, the issue is that we have basically placed an in house recall of the test kits, and we are suspending the use of them at this time until we can come up with a remedy for this issue,” said JSO Asst. Chief Edwin Cayenne.

Cayenne oversees narcotics and said a detective discovered a problem this week when testing a substance at the jail. It turned out to be an over-the-counter medication, an antihistamine, but the Scott test flagged it as cocaine.

So what are officers going to use now to test substances out in the field?

“Currently, we are working, you know, with other law enforcement agencies, to identify, you know, a different testing kit for other narcotics that these agencies may be using. And in the interim, we do have a True Narc test that we can utilize. However, it’s not one in which we can provide to every patrolman or every law enforcement officer,” Cayenne said.

News4JAX spoke to the CEO of the manufacturer on the phone and he directed us to a lengthy statement. He said implying his company’s product is faulty is inaccurate.

“The reagent test is not conceived, designed, manufactured, and/or sold in a manner that is deficient, unreliable or inaccurate…While presumptive testing is extremely reliable, faster, and less expensive than other methods of testing, it is possible (though unlikely) to receive a false positive result under certain conditions, when certain substances are introduced into the presumptive test,” the statement reads.

Regardless, there’s a ripple effect.

Agencies like the Nassau, Clay, and St. Johns County Sheriff’s Offices are all reviewing their test kits and procedures out of an abundance of caution.

Chief Public Defender Charlie Cofer said this could have a major impact on current drug cases.

“It can be a big deal for many individual people. It may not be a big deal for everyone else. We will just have to go through all the cases and review them on a case-by-case basis to see whether they afford them some relief or not,” Cofer said.

That means someone charged with cocaine possession could potentially have charges dropped and someone held in jail might be released on a lower bond.

“They can make a big difference. Typically what will happen, many cases are resolved without an FDLE evaluation because if our clients tell us that it is the substance, we don’t push it much further. But typically if clients indicate to us that it’s not cocaine, we will push the state to have a full test done by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement,” Cofer said.

“We are conducting a thorough review of cases potentially implicated to determine what actions need to be taken moving forward to address this issue,” the State Attorney’s Office said in a statement.

JSO uses other field tests, like one for fentanyl, and the agency is now reviewing those as well.

The CEO of Scott Company said his group provides kits to more than 300 agencies nationwide.

About the Author:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.