Yes, it's another police incident from Florida – it seems we're having a lot of those lately. This time, we have a Sarasota Sheriff Deputy who was convinced that the passengers of an older generation Jaguar XJ were smoking pot -and lots of it- while driving on the road.
This incident took place on a Friday night in May, but the dash-cam footage from the patrol car was released this week.
In the police report, Sarasota Sheriff's Deputy Dominic Fornal noted that he was following the 2003 Jaguar on the highway at speeds of around 30-35mph (49-56km/h) and that with his patrol car's windows rolled down, he could smell "strong and distinct odor of unburned cannabis" coming out of the British sedan.
After pulling over the Jaguar and approaching the car, he is heard telling the driver, Joseph McNeal, and his girlfriend, "You guys have a lot of marijuana in this car."
"Pardon me?" replies McNeal, a 42-year old Sarasota businessman, who had been arrested on marijuana possession charges back in 2005, but those were later dropped.
"Where's the marijuana in this car? There's a lot of marijuana in this car. I smelled the marijuana when I got behind you guys," said the police officer.
"There is no marijuana in this car," the driver insisted. "There is definitely a whole lot of marijuana in this car," replies Fornal. "Now listen; I am searching this car. There are no ifs, ands or buts about that, but if you guys give me a little bit of marijuana, or a lot, or whatever you guys have, I can work with you guys, because marijuana is a misdemeanor."
The sheriff's deputy then goes on to say that he will search the car, but the driver says he won't give him his permission. The police officer replies that he doesn't have to ask him for permission since he has probable cause.
To make a long story short, Fornal searched the car by himself and found nothing. He then requested the help of a Venice police officer with her dog who also came up empty handed.
Fornal then searched McNeal at the roadside, patting him down and making him remove his shoes and turn his socks inside out. And you guessed it, he found nothing.
"You have some idea what you're putting me through, right?" McNeal asked Fornal, according to a report from the Herald Tribune. "You can picture your family being put through this, right?"
About an hour into the stop, and even though no drugs were found, Fornal read McNeal his Miranda rights and asked him to perform a field sobriety test. The Sarasota businessman refused and McNeal arrested him on the DUI (Driving Under the Influence) charge, hand-cuffing him and placing him in the back of the patrol vehicle.
Not the one to quit, the 27-year-old deputy asked for a second dog. Shortly after, Sgt. Troy Sasse arrived with the dog and along with four more deputies, searched the Jaguar again but found nothing.
In his report, Fornal says that they searched the car several more times and at some point, Deputy Justin Potter discovered a marijuana "roach" (slang for the remainder of a joint or blunt) somewhere inside the trunk.
We should note here that while searching, Fornal appeared to have turned off his wireless microphone, something that could be a violation of departmental policy.
As for McNeal, after finding the joint, he was taken to jail, where a breath test showed his blood-alcohol level was only .049, much lower than the .08 level at which Florida considers a driver impaired.
He was also subjected to an urine test that found the presence of THC from marijuana in his system, though McNeal said he had smoked marijuana in the past but not at that night.
Earlier in the week, the State Attorney's Office decided to drop all charges against McNeal since there was no evidence that he was driving under the influence or that he was impaired.
"The lab report indicated there was marijuana in his system," Assistant State Attorney Spencer Rasnake told the Herlad Tirbune. "However, there was no additional corroborative evidence to show the marijuana was put in his system that night and therefore impaired him."