“I don’t have a magical drug test that I can give you right now,” officer T.T. Carroll told Katelyn Ebner just before placing her under arrest for driving while under the influence of marijuana, even though she was sober.
11 Alive, a local NBC News affiliate in Atlanta opened an investigation into who completed Georgia’s “Drug Recognition Expert” training, and found that one of their best-trained experts is jailing innocent people as a result of his training.
In Cobb County, just outside of Atlanta, 11 Alive found Ebner’s case. Ebner, a bartender, was pulled over after she crossed the center line on her way home from work. Officer T.T. Carroll – a graduate of the drug recognition program – questioned whether she had been drinking, which she had not, and after passing a breathalyzer, Carroll asked if Ebner had been smoking marijuana.
She said she hadn’t and doesn’t do that, but Carroll arrested her anyway, because she was “indicating” to him that she had smoked marijuana.
In an interview, Ebner said, “I didn’t realize that you could get arrested for something that you didn’t do, that never crossed my mind until it happened to me.”
While being arrested, Ebner asked the officer if she would be free once she passed a drug test.
“You’re going to jail, ma’am. Okay? I don’t have a magic drug test that I can give you right now,” responded Carroll.
Ebner only spent a night in jail, but she lost more than that. Because of the arrest, she lost her Alcohol Server’s permit and had to spend months and thousands of dollars to prove her innocence. Four months after the incident, prosecutors dropped all charges when her blood test cleared her from having any substances in her system the night of the arrest.
The investigation team found numerous cases where Carroll arrested someone on DUI drug charges because of what his training indicated, and the drug tests eventually came back clean.
In another incident, Carroll had pulled over and was arresting an Auburn University student. When the student asked why he was being arrested, Carroll responded that his training suggested that the student had been smoking marijuana.
Ebner filed an internal affairs complaint on Carroll, but the Cobb County Police Department exonerated him and claimed the lab’s drug test results were wrong. “It happens all the time,” a department spokesperson said.
The department also told reporters that the drug recognition training they receive makes them more accurate at detecting drugs than a blood or urine test.
Carroll is one of 250 Georgia officers to go through the month-long expert certification course. The training teaches officers a dozen observations to determine whether someone is on drugs and, if so, which of seven drugs it is.
The website says, “Law enforcement officers who participate in the program become proficient at identifying drugs and drug categories as well as detecting the signs that impaired drivers display when under the influence of drugs.”
So, according to the Cobb County Police Department, 240 hours of training makes their officers more proficient than science.
The county’s DUI Task Force was recently awarded a trophy by Mothers Against Drunk Driving. At the ceremony, Officer Carroll received a silver medal for 90 DUI arrests in 2016.
While the investigation only netted three wrongful arrests out of Carroll’s 90, that’s three too many. Those arrested were forced to spend thousands of dollars and months of legal wrangling because an officer’s training led him to an incorrect conclusion. If Carroll is one of the department’s best, the results of a department-wide investigation would seem to be eye-opening.