Here’s a story that may seem incredible but it’s actually quite routine. A deputy from the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Department named Dominic Fornal pulls over a car, claiming that he smelled unburned marijuana — quite a feat given that they were going 35 mph and the windows were up. A drug dog, amazingly, didn’t alert to the smell of anything, but that didn’t stop them from performing a clearly illegal search.
“You guys have a lot of marijuana in this car,” Fornal told the driver, Joseph McNeal, and his girlfriend.
“Pardon me?” asked McNeal, 42, a Sarasota businessman.
“Where’s the marijuana in this car? I smelled the marijuana when I got behind you guys,” Fornal said, according to a two-hour dashcam video of the stop. “I am searching this car. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it, but if you give me a little bit of marijuana, or a lot, or whatever you guys have, I can work with you.”
Two hours later, after three deputies, a Venice police officer and two drug-sniffing dogs searched the Jaguar — pulling off the headliner and pulling up the dashboard and center console — no unburned pot was found.
McNeal was arrested on a DUI charge, though a breath test later showed his blood-alcohol level was .049, lower than the .08 level at which Florida considers a driver impaired.
He was also charged with possession of a burned marijuana “roach” that deputies say was eventually found in the Jaguar’s trunk, but was missed by the deputies and dogs who searched the vehicle several times.
The state’s attorney eventually dropped the charges because, well, they didn’t have a shred of evidence to back them up. Oh, and did I mention that at some point the deputy turned off his uniform microphone? And that he has a history of “questionable behavior at traffic stops”? And that rather than facing any disciplinary action at all, he’s now been moved to a unit that doesn’t have dashboard cameras in their cars? Welcome to American justice.