Crime

Charges Dropped in UM Powdered-Sugar Prank After Lab Confirms No Cocaine

For the past month, Jonathan Harrington has been living every practical jokers' worst nightmare. The University of Miami student faced a felony drug charge and expulsion from school — all because, he insisted, he'd put out lines of powdered sugar as a gag before a dorm inspection. When a police field kit returned a positive result for cocaine, though, no one was laughing.

Well, yesterday the student was vindicated. Court dockets confirm that felony charges have been dropped against Harrington. His sister says lab results confirmed that, indeed, police had impounded powdered sugar and not cocaine from his dorm room.

Harrington declined to comment, hinting that civil proceedings might be underway: “Only the criminal case has been resolved.” 

A University of Miami spokesperson, meanwhile, wouldn't discuss the case, citing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which prevents disclosure of a student’s record. Coral Gables Police did not return New Times' repeated calls seeking comment.

Harrington's nightmare began August 30, when his dorm room was scheduled for an administrative search. The 21-year-old English major thought he’d have some fun by leaving lines of white powder, pills, and a rolled-up dollar bill on the coffee table and kitchen counter. 

Harrington knew it was school protocol to call police when suspected drugs are found, but because the lines were just powdered sugar and the pills were simply aspirin, Harrington figured everyone would get a good chuckle out of the stunt and move on.

Instead, according to a police report, the powder tested positive for cocaine. Harrington was promptly handcuffed, hauled off to jail, and charged with felony cocaine possession.

For the past month, Harrington has maintained that the drug field kit yielded a false positive. It's not an uncommon problem, actually. 

This isn’t the first time a quick drug test used in the field yielded a false positive. In fact, they are notoriously wonky. In 2009, a Kissimmee man was arrested after the breath mints in his car tested positive for crack cocaine. In 2011, a birdwatcher in Weston was arrested when her sage tested positive for marijuana. In 2013, police cuffed a 25-year-old Coney Island man after his Jolly Rancher candies tested positive for methamphetamine. In February, a Minnesota man was arrested when his vitamin powder tested positive for amphetamines.

And now, it seems, Coral Gables cops have their own field-kit false-positive horror story. 

Harrington is slated to graduate next spring, but he says the experience is making him rethink his major: “This whole affair makes me consider law.”
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Jess Swanson is the news editor at New Times. She graduated from the University of Miami and has a master's degree from the Columbia University School of Journalism.
Contact: Jess Swanson