steven-olearyPossession of substantial amounts of heroin can get a person sent to prison for a long time. Possession of large quantities of laundry detergent? Not a crime.

Florida deputy has been terminated from his job and 11 people were released from county jail because of the phony evidence the deputy, Steven O’ Leary, concocted against them.

Heroin Trafficking Charges

A 28-year-old Jensen Beach man ended up spending 41 days behind bars, missing Christmas and other events. He’s just one of O’Leary’s victims, charged with heroin trafficking just days before Martin County Sheriff William Snyder fired the deputy.

Mr. Beach was found asleep in his van parked at a Kentucky Fried Chicken. The arrest report states that O’Leary found white powder inside the van, which his “field test” identified as heroin. It was actually Tide laundry detergent. Once the sheriff’s department ran tests on these “drugs” and other substances O’Leary identified as illegal narcotics. The crime lab tests showed the substances weren’t narcotics, and weren’t illegal.

After releasing the 11 wrongfully accused people, Snyder told reporters, “We’re trying to undo whatever harm has been done.” He added his department is aiding O’Leary’s victims by helping them with expungement, paying certain fees and “doing everything we can to make amends.”

Drug Retesting in Progress

It’s possible the situation won’t end with just 11 people released. The county has sent 120 items formerly identified as drugs to the Indian River Crime Laboratory for retesting. Snyder says some of those substances are likely to return from the retesting no longer identified as narcotics.

A police lieutenant noted that some of the people arrested by O’Leary might have actually had drugs on them, but because of O’Leary’s credibility issues, the cases were dismissed. Currently, the Sheriff’s Department has another 80 O’Leary cases to review.

Tide, Sand and Headache Powder

Besides laundry detergent, O’Leary arrested people for possessing headache powder and sand, all of which he alleged were narcotics. Snyder said the only pattern his office has detected in O’Leary’s arrests was that some of the individuals had been arrested previously.

Suing for Damages

While it’s admirable that Snyder took the steps he did after discovering O’Leary’s transgressions, there’s certainly a CYA element to it. The young man arrested for Tide possession is contemplating a lawsuit, and it’s a safe bet those arrested for sand and headache powder possession are thinking along the same lines – as they should.

What happened to them was a travesty, and it’s possible some people have sat in jail a lot longer or have been convicted and sent to prison, based on O’Leary and his phony field testing. The “Tide guy” told a local TV station that O’Leary showed him a photo of the field test kit on his phone, but he never saw an actual test kit.

Needless to say, he couldn’t figure out how 92 grams of heroin ended up in his van. Luckily, he dodged a potential 25-year prison sentence for trafficking an innocuous substance.