11 people freed from jail after deputy allegedly falsified narcotics arrests

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By Janelle Griffith

Eleven people were released from jail in Martin County, Florida, and a deputy was fired after tests revealed that substances that were the basis of some of his narcotics arrests were not drugs.

Sheriff William Snyder said he fired Deputy Steven O’Leary this month for allegedly falsifying narcotics arrests in Martin County, south of Port St. Lucie on Florida’s east coast.

Some of those freed had drugs on them when they were arrested, sheriff’s Lt. Michael Dougherty said Monday. But their charges were dismissed because all had been arrested by O’Leary and authorities “couldn’t find anything credible with anything” he did.

“We’re trying to undo whatever harm has been done,” the sheriff said of the 11 released from jail. “We’re actually helping them with expungement, paying the fees, doing everything we can to make these people as whole as possible.”

The sheriff added: “We recognize that we can’t ever completely undo everything that was done, but we will do everything we can to make amends.”

One of the 11 freed is Matt Crull, who spent more than a month in jail on drug-trafficking charges before the alleged heroin found in his van turned out to be laundry detergent, the sheriff’s office said.

Crull, 29, was sleeping in his van in a parking lot when he was approached by O’Leary on Dec. 5.

O’Leary found a powdery substance wrapped in plastic in the driver’s side door of the van. Crull told him it was Tide laundry detergent. O’Leary said a field test proved it was heroin.

“I just looked at him baffled and confused because I had no idea as to where 92 grams of heroin came from inside my van,” Crull told NBC affiliate WPTV in West Palm Beach, Florida.

After 41 days behind bars, Crull was proven right.

The sheriff’s office began to investigate O’ Leary’s arrests after it got a tip from a state attorney who noticed two cases in which substances tested at the state laboratory showed no signs of being narcotics.

As of Wednesday afternoon, there were no charges against O’Leary, but Snyder said a charge of official misconduct is possible, according to tcpalm.com.

Authorities said they are in the process of reviewing all of O’Leary’s cases. It is not clear whether O’Leary is represented by an attorney at this time.

“No matter what we do, no matter how hard we try, just based on the law of possibilities there’s always a possibility that one bad apple will slip through,” Snyder said.

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