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Feature: Punk Rocker's Jailing Raises Questions About Field Drug Tests

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #482)
Drug War Issues

Don Bolles, drummer for the legendary punk band the Germs, was going to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting with his girlfriend, 21-year-old Cat Scandal, after picking her up for "a day off" from drug rehab, on April 4, when they were pulled over in a traffic stop by Newport Beach Police. During a search of the vehicle -- to which Bolles unwisely consented -- police found a bottle of peppermint Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap. According to a police field drug test, the soap contained GHB (gamma hydroxyl butyrate), a so-called date rape drug illegal under state and federal law.

GHB -- Don Bolles and Dr. Bronner's don't have it
Despite Bolles' disbelieving protests of innocence, he was arrested and charged with possession of GHB. The aging punk spent three and a half days in a series of Orange County jails before being bailed out, and another 10 days facing felony charges before a confirmation test done by the Orange County Sheriff's Department Crime Lab came back negative and prosecutors announced they were dropping the charges.

The field test was performed by a kit manufactured by Armor Forensics/ODV called the Narcopouch 928. Armor Forensics/ODV did not respond to calls from the Chronicle about the false positives reported by its product. One man at ODV who refused to identify himself said only that he could not comment because of possible legal action.

The Drug and Alcohol Testing Industry Association did not respond to Chronicle queries about accuracy standards within the industry. In the group's defense, however, it should be noted that they were all out of the office this week attending a national drug testing industry convention.

The Newport Beach Police Department did not respond to calls from the Chronicle about the accuracy of the GHB field test.

Bolles is out from under the long arm of the law now, but he's not happy about his experience. Neither is Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, whose president, David Bronner, is also a leading figure in the hemp movement and a friend of drug policy reform. Bronner offered Bolles legal assistance when he heard the news, and Dr. Bronner's began a public campaign to clear its name and put the drug testing industry on the defensive.

NarcoPouch Squad Pack Kit -- not an accurate test for GHB
Bolles couldn't believe he was being arrested for drug possession, he told the Chronicle. "I knew it wasn't GHB, I knew it was soap; I used it that morning," he said. "It was ridiculous."

Ridiculous it may have been, but Bolles' three and a half day journey through the jails of Southern California was no laughing matter. "They kept me in several different jails, and it was a pretty hardcore experience for me," he said. "There was some 28-hour, weird booking procedure; you have to sit around in a concrete cubicle with other prisoners, they wake you up every half hour. It was pretty horrifying."

When Dr. Bronner's heard about Bolles' predicament on April 9 it issued the first of a series of press releases decrying his arrest and flatly denying that its product contained GHB. "This clearly is a case of profiling by the Newport Beach police of a person who doesn't look like the people who live in that town," said vice-president Michael Bronner. "We are paying the cost of Mr. Bolles' lawyer, and we demand the charges be dropped or proof from the police forensics lab of GHB contamination be immediately provided to us," he stated.

David Bronner derided the police for their bizarre notion that soap was a good place to put GHB. "We cannot imagine anyone putting GHB, or any other drug for that matter, into a rinse-off soap product that is lathered and rinsed off the body immediately," he said. "The Newport Beach police should see how much of a buzz putting beer in their shampoo gives them, and get a grip and apologize on their hands and knees to Mr. Bolles."

"This is ridiculous," Bronner told the Chronicle. "Not only is drug testing an incredible intrusion into people's privacy -- countries like Canada and Europe don't allow this -- but this test is completely unreliable, causing false positives with things like soap. What kind of standards are these tests subject to before they are placed on the market?"

Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps -- not a useful medium for consuming GHB
"The testing of substances for drugs is basically unregulated," Kevin Zeese, a prominent long-time drug reformer and political activist with expertise in the intersection of law and drug testing. "If it were the feds, the DEA would set the standards, but at the local level, it's state and local police who make the decisions. This all takes place within the criminal justice system; there is no regulation by the FDA or any other agency apart from law enforcement agencies," he told the Chronicle.

"There have been lots of cases of these sorts of tests not being accurate and causing problems, so this is not surprising," said Zeese. "Now, the local police are going to have to do something to correct their standards so they don't falsely accuse people. If they don't, this kind of thing ends up being regulated by the courts."

Bronner had another, disturbing question. "What else can cause a false positive, and how many people have been thrown in jail because of that?" he asked. "Don came under a whole lot of pressure to just plead. According to the drug testing company literature, you can get a conviction based on just a field test and a confession. The confirmation tests have lower cut-offs, so the cops try to get you to confess based on the field test."

Bronner's campaign isn't ending with Bolles' exoneration. At least four other soaps have resulted in false positives in the Narcopouch 928 GHB test kit, including Neutrogena and Tom's of Maine. "We are testing more products and videotaping those tests. Products from Johnson & Johnson and Palmolive are testing positive, so we'll go to the Cosmetics, Toiletries and Fragrances Association, show them these products are testing positive, and then work through them to explore options for addressing the situation with these field drug test kits. Ideally, we could force a product recall, but we need at least a disclaimer if this product is going to continue to be sold. If they don't know soap tests positive, what else don't they know?"

He is also calling for law enforcement to quit using the Narcopouch 928. "Police departments across the country should stop using that immediately," he said.

Bolles rose to fame in the late 1970s as a member of the LA punk band the Germs, whose influence was widespread in the scene and who are credited with popularizing the Mohawk haircut. The band broke up in 1980 after lead singer Darby Crash killed himself. The surviving members reunited two years ago and will tour this summer.

Bolles has not washed his hands of the case yet, either. "The lawyers and David and I have been consulting about our best legal strategy," he said. "We haven't decided which direction to go yet. But what happened to me shouldn't happen to anybody else."

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Anonymous (not verified)

This is crazy! Who cares what a person looks like...?! I mean the cops are always pulling stupid stunts like that. I know a guy who has long hair and he got pulled over in the Newport Beach area (he lives nearby) because the cops thought that he was someone who just robbed a liquor store based on our truck and his looks. The actual suspect had short hair I found out later. So they just picked him cause he had long hair.

Trying to bust someone based on a field test for drugs is ridiculous. After reading this article I see now that the cops just are looking to bust someone no matter what so they can pat themselves on the back for something that's not even a legit bust. All the real drug users, smugglers, murders, etc are still walking around free cause the cops are too busy wasting their time with the innocent people.

I hope Bronner/Bolles sue the police dept for that false arrest. That's emotional cruelty to be in a jail for 3 days for something that you never did.

Fri, 04/20/2007 - 10:07am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

It seems to go in circles, 40 years ago, my generation put up with the same thing, only in those days we knew the local police, and were treated as humans. God help this generation.
Your freedoms have been flushed down the toilet. You are living in a Nation that has turned against its own people, incarcerating at a rate unheard of in history, for victimless crimes.
Stand up for your rights, or soon, you will have no rights at all. Remember our forefathers that wrote the constitution, for it it the greatest law ever written, and has been tramped upon by money hungry, power hungy people,. I could write a book on this.
Just the fact that one can be driving down the road, and suddennly be harrased and detained is enough to make me sick.
As many have said, the police need to go after the real bad guys, and stop the harrasement and institutionalization of the public. We still have rights, start standing up for your rights, be brave, learn the law, use the law to protect ypourselves. Do not let anyone or anything kill your spirit. Theres a monster on the loose, itsa got our heads in a noose, and it just sits there watching.

Fri, 04/20/2007 - 2:34pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

it never ends. our freedom is being taken away in small slices for the sake of many "causes". we just say it's ok, thats all right. what a bunch of blanks we have become.

Sun, 04/22/2007 - 8:29pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Sad to say, but this is America under George Bush. Orange County and especially Newport Beach should be ashamed of itself. How scary is it that you can't even drive while wearing a Mohawk. When you think about it - we are no better now than East Germany was.

Sun, 04/22/2007 - 3:38am Permalink
David Dunn (not verified)

You've got to remember that to law enforcement anything hemp is marijuana. If you don't believe that just ask the Drug Enforcement Administration. Likewise, the Office of National Drug Control Policy who also has trouble understanding the concept of cross-pollination.

Dr. Bonner's Magic Soap clearly states on the label "Hemp." What further proof does law enforcement need that the suspicious substance was anything other than marijuana?

So, whip out the Narcopouch and see if there are any other illegal substances lurking in Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap with hemp.

Presto! A date-rape drug! That's something that everyone of us who uses Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap needs. Just rub it in, rub it in…

The Narcopouch apparently has another flaw despite its false negative for the date rape drug.

It didn't pick up the trace amounts of THC that surely must be in Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap with hemp.

Wonder how many more flaws are lurking in law enforcement's Narcopouch?

The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only legitimate object of good government.

— Thomas Jefferson

Make the most you can of the Indian hemp seed and sow it everwhere.

— George Washington 1794

Sun, 04/22/2007 - 11:36pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Why is it that the Drug Administration will not make it possible for Doctors to prescribe Marinol as pain medication? Could it be that the major drug makers would lose extremely large amounts of monies, their lobbyists would not be able to "buy" politicians, fund the campaigns of "their" favorite canidate? Why not deny cancer and chemo patients what is needed to improve their quality of life? Oh sorry, our government is currently doing this.

The Constitution of this country starts out with the words "WE THE PEOPLE....." NOT We the sheeple. We as a society, had better start working for ourselves instead of letting "special interest" people make laws that WE disagree with.

Madison, IN

Tue, 04/24/2007 - 1:06pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

There are many things that disturb me about this case, but the one thing I want to harp on right now is how our government employees - OUR employees - feel they can ignore our questions when asked. I am sick of reading about how they don't respond to phone calls, or reply, "we can't answer that because of possible legal actions." Could WE get away with that if our boss questioned us about our performance??? In my opinion they MUST answer any and all questions that they are asked.

Tue, 04/24/2007 - 2:29pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

A woman in California, on probation, tested positive with a skin patch device and lost her kids. The manufactures rep and V.P., who repeatedly testified in Court as an expert witness was a con. He claimed to have degrees from universities that never offered them. He lied, knowing about the problems with inaccuracy with this skin patch product, in the case where the woman ended up losing her parental rights. The testing industry executives occupy the seats on the Drug Testing Advisory Board which is reponsible for guiding the future course of U.S. testing policy. On a medical doctor drug testing certification website it says that "carry over" is the unspoken disgrace of the industry. With highly sophisticated equipment in use today, cocaine residue from previous tests should not exist, period, or so they say. But it does. The insiders of the testing avant guard admit it. How many people have lost their jobs, reputations, homes and faith in America because of improperly calibrated machines, or an employer that wants to punish you, or a bad cop out to screw you? If violations occur by the testors, purposefully or negligently, and you are fired for a positive result, as an at-will employee you are cooked. If you have a decent union, it helps. Most don't and the legal safety net is pathetic. It is a disgrace. Actually, what legal safety net? Big, big money is involved and all expenses paid first class air fare to golf outings, in desert paradises, with Vodka Tonics and cheauffered limos, while the puke who busts his butt gets the axe for testing positive on a test he was not allowed to take according to the constitution. Oh yea, the "randomness" of the selection process is key. If you are selected for a test without reasonable suspicion, and the method used for chosing you is not scientifically valid, you had your constitutional right to be free of an illegal search, thrown out. Now, try proving to a Court you weren't chosen randomly. All kinds of regulations guarantee your right to examine the scientific method behind your random selection. Well, what if they don't want to give it to you? Who you gonna see? The police, the FBI, your congressman, senator, your employer, the company that did the selecting, the White House, the Drug Czar, the marines, the Courts? And who's gonna believe you? The authority is in the hands of the testers and the entrepreneurs who seized on an incredibly easy way to make gobs of money, all with the help of Uncle Sam. They have almost unbridled power to trample constitutional rights; rights that that our loved ones die for overseas in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo...

Sat, 05/19/2007 - 4:25pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

I hope he sue's the f____ out of the Newport police dept. Maybe the'll think twice about indescriminant testing

Fri, 04/27/2007 - 1:14am Permalink

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