Pubdate: Sat, 14 May 2011
Source: Asheville Citizen-Times (NC)
Copyright: 2011 Asheville Citizen-Times
Author: Joel Burgess
Cited: Sheriff
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)
Bookmark: (North Carolina)



ASHEVILLE - A favorite food of millions may have been the culprit in 
false drug-test results that led to a California man's jailing on 
cocaine charges.

The Buncombe County Sheriff's Office said Friday an enzyme present in 
cheese and possibly some types of dough appeared to have yielded 
false results that led to cocaine charges against Antonio Hernandez 
Carranza. Hernandez spent four days in the Buncombe County jail until 
state lab results showed the substances in the back of his truck were 
tortilla dough, cheese and other food.

Buncombe Sheriff Van Duncan and Lt. Randy Sorrells said they only 
recently learned how the common food can fool drug tests. Positive 
tests are considered probable cause and can be used to bring charges 
and jail suspects under high bonds, effectively keeping them imprisoned.

Along with revealing the test flaw, police are also now saying they 
will reimburse Hernandez for $400 in food taken following his May 1 arrest.

The plight of the Mexican national, who is a legal resident but 
speaks little English, angered Latino advocates and brought 
widespread attention to the Sheriff's Office.

The sheriff said officials are trying to speak with the president of 
the company of at least one of the test manufacturers.
"What we are going to do now is check with the manufacturers and find 
out what they have found can cause false positives and put that into 
the training with our officers," Duncan said.

Three different field tests indicated the presence of cocaine in food 
Hernandez said was a gift for his sister in Johnson City, Tenn.

Already in jail under a $1,500 bond for failing to heed blue lights 
and sirens and driving while intoxicated - a charge later dropped 
after a breathalyzer test showed no alcohol - Hernandez was charged 
with cocaine possession and his total bond raised to $300,000.

Deputies say they rushed the food to a state lab for a more 
definitive test, where they soon learned there were no drugs 
involved. Hernandez was found guilty of failing to heed lights and 
sirens and let go on time served.

Confused deputies later redid the tests, which rely on a color 
change, and noticed that cheese set it off the most, as did the 
dough, to a lesser extent, Sorrells said.

They then went to state lab technicians.

"They said, 'It's not common, but it is known. It's not the first 
time they had ever heard of it," Sorrells said.

Deputies have contacted the manufacturers of the tests to try to get 
more information, he said.

The sheriff, meanwhile, said his office would reimburse Hernandez for the food.

"We're going to cut him a check for his food because we kept his food 
to further test it," he said.

But Hernandez, in a message given through a translator, said the $400 
would not cover other expenses, such as the impound fee for his 
truck, his tires that were flattened by police stop sticks or clothes 
in the truck ruined by the rotting food.

"It's not enough. That doesn't pay economically for what I lost. That 
doesn't pay for my tires," he said.

The sheriff said he would not reimburse those things because 
Hernandez was found guilty of failing to yield to police lights and 
sirens. Hernandez had difficulty getting his truck, Duncan said, 
because it was registered under another owner.

When deputies looked at the food, Duncan said, shrimp in a cooler was 
already rotting - something Hernandez denies.

Hernandez said he had been driving three days to see his sister when 
he realized he had failed to take Interstate 81 to Johnson City and 
ended up in Asheville. He stopped his truck in a travel lane of I-240 
in the early morning with hazard lights on after he thought he saw 
steam coming from it.

Hernandez said he thought a deputy who approached wanted him to move, 
so he drove off slowly with this flashers still on. But the deputy 
said he was trying to stop him and followed with his lights and siren 
on. Patrol cars blocked his way ahead and put down stop sticks. 
Hernandez said he wasn't given a chance to speak and was taken 
roughly from the car. Deputies said he didn't respond to verbal commands.

His truck was impounded and his dog taken away. Since that time, he 
has been able to get back his truck and dog.

Despite allegations from local Latino advocates, Duncan denied that 
Hernandez's ethnicity had anything to do with his arrest.
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