Birdshit!

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What Happened to Georgia Southern’s Star Quarterback Was A Real Shit Show…

When Georgia Southern starting quarterback Shai Werts was falsely arrested for cocaine possession this summer, a small time drug bust on lonely South Carolina highway gained national attention and sparked fresh debate on a continuing variety of American dilemmas. Standards and practices for police and policing were properly called into question, and the complex relationship between young black males and law enforcement in the Deep South took center stage. Racism in rural America played its underbelly role, and seriously flawed drug field tests called the shots on the side of the road. To quote the arresting Deputy Sheriff Charles A. Browder III: “That’s a lot of bird shit!”

Because three overlapping cameras recorded the event in real time, it is uniquely possible to cobble together a fairly accurate transcript of the entire incident, Three cameras afford multiple viewpoints that need not necessarily  line-up. In one instance, a statement spoken on the Body Cam is disproven in the Dash Cams frame. Since all three cop cam videos were released to the public by the Saluda County Sheriff’s Department we can watch the incident from multiple points of view. We can see body language and hear inflections in order to gauge the intent of each player, and we can listen carefully for a few telling asides mumbled when the speaker thinks no one is listening. It is a voyeur’s view of an absurd incident, a cornucopia of modern surveillance, an embarrassment of snitches. There is the Dash Cam in the Deputy Browder’s car that records the initial chase and the subsequent search. There is a Body Cam on the deputy’s chest that picks up most of the chatter, and there is an In-Car Cam that keeps a watchful eye on the prisoner even as a intrusion of cracker cops deconstruct the interior of his car. The entire event lasts about 33 minutes. The transcriptions which follow are edited for brevity. The three video links are embedded in the text, and a link to the full unedited transcript appears at the end.   

According to the Incident Report, Deputy Browder clocked a late model Dodge Charger going 78 MPH on a sparse two-lane county road called Chappells Highway around 9 pm on Thursday, July 31. Browder immediately turned his police car around and when he tried to catch up with the Charger, the  vehicle had disappeared. Browder kept driving straight for about four miles until he caught up with several tractor trailers that the deputy claimed had “passed him long before coming in contact with the Charger.” Browder turned around again and headed back down Chappells Highway towards the place where he first clocked the speeding car when suddenly he saw what he thought was “the same Dodge Charger” pass him again. He turned around a third time and caught up with this car lickety-split, ran the plates and came up with nothing. So he turned on his blue lights  – no siren yet – and the two cars barreled in tandem towards the little town of Saluda.

When the Dash Cam video begins the deputy is already following the Charger. There are no blue lights flashing and no siren sounding. About a minute in, the blues go on and a few seconds later the driver of the Charger starts flashing his emergency lights as well.  The silent Dash Cam shows this section of road to be straight, dark and narrow. There are no street lights for long stretches. When those blues go on Shai Werts immediately hears his mother’s voice in the back of his head. Don’t pull over on any dark roads. You know how the world is.  She said call 911 and tell them that you’re not running. Tell them you’re looking for a well-lit spot:

Dispatch: Saluda County 911.

Shai Werts: Hello, hey, how you doing? I’m, I’m like, blue lights are on me right now, but I am on a back road, and I am not going to pull over until like I see some like light area. I’m just trying to… I want y’all to know I’m not running from the police or anything. I’m not speeding. I’m not doing nothing. I have my emergency lights on. 

Dispatch: Yes, OK. He sees that your emergency lights are on, but if you could pull over that would be nice.

Werts: No, it’s dark. I’m not going to pull over in the dark. There needs to be some kind of light…

Dispatch: OK, alrighty. I’ll let him know. 

Werts: OK, thank you.

Moments later, Deputy Browder turns on his siren. 

As they come closer to the town Werts sees a second set of flashing lights coming at him from the front. It’s another cop car, and Shai has no choice but to roll to a stop, sandwiched in a single lane between two pulsating cars. Mercifully, not far away, an odd street lamp a casts a pool of light on the road just up ahead. The siren stops wailing but the blues continue to flash.

Deputy Browder’s Body Cam takes over now as he steps out of his vehicle  and walks purposefully towards the driver’s side of the Charger. 

“Want to step out for me, man? Step out for me.”

“Want my I.D.?”

“Yeah. Step out for me.”

Shai Werts is going into his junior year at Georgia Southern University in nearby Statesboro. A quarterback for the GSU Eagles, Werts, is a rising star. He has started 24 games over the past two seasons. He has thrown a thousand yards to complete ten touchdowns and rushed another 900 yards  to score fifteen more. With Shai’s help, the Eagles had a ten-win season and bowl victory last year. The driver who steps out of the Charger is immensely talented, deeply religious and has a tattoo of his family on his upper arm and a verse from the bible inked on his chest. At 5’11” he is not particularly tall or a football player, but at a solid 205 pounds he is all muscle – a dark-hued, young black man who grew up in nearby Clinton, population 8,519. He is 22 and knows what to do. He knows exactly how he is now expected to act.  

“Come back here to my car,” Browder barks. “What are you doing?”

“I saw the lights. I’m not gonna pull o–“

“You’re on the main highway, man! Turn around and face me!” 

When Browder tells him, “You turned off on me earlier on Chappells Highway. I know that was you…”

Shai says, “What!?”

When the deputy says “You passed me going 78 miles an hour…”

Shai politely replies, “I don’t think that was me, sir.”

“That was you!” Browder steamrolls. “You’re kinda pissing me off right now. Cause you know what you’re doing! You’re a grown man! You’re on the main highway coming into Saluda County from Newbury…”

Shai softly interjects: “I’m not coming from Newberry. I’m coming from Clinton.”

Charlie Browder says “You’re almost about to go to jail!” 

“How? I called the lady on the phone.”

“It  doesn’t matter! I don’t care! We been riding like ten minutes now!” 

Sir, my mother told me not to pull over …

“No! No!” Browder changed the subject. “You turned off on me. You were going almost 80 mph down the road. In a silver Dodge Charger. That was you!” 

“Ok,” Shai says, not agreeing with him but trying to mollify the cop. Browder says Shai saw his squad car turn around, “and then you dipped off on me.”

“No,” Werts is emphatic. “I turned like I was supposed to.”

“Turned where?”

“On the road.”

“So you weren’t going 78 mph.”

“No.”

“Yeah, you were.” The cop shuts it down. “Go ahead and turn around for me. Turn around for me! Put your hands behind you back! “

And then zip! zip! zip! Shai Werts is in handcuffs.

So let’s stop for a moment to note that Mr. Werts is under arrest precisely one minute and thirty seven seconds after he first began speaking with the police. Werts has said fewer than eighty words to Deputy Browder. He has been respectful and polite throughout this extraordinarily brief, brutal exchange, but that did not do him any good. It is doubtful that anything Mr. Werts could have said that evening would have kept him from going to jail. Deputy Browder is a man on a mission and this story is a verdict in search of a crime.

Continuing…  

“If you don’t know where you are or if you’re on a back road, and you turn off on me on the road, that doesn’t make no sense to me,” the deputy is saying. “So, I don’t believe anything you’re telling me right now. So, you’re going to jail. Ok?”

That logic was lost on Shai. “I’m going to jail?” he groans.. “For what?”

“For speeding — and failure to stop for a blue light…” 

“Sir, I called the–“

“No! That doesn’t matter!” the deputy cuts him off again, “That doesn’t matter! Lean up against the vehicle.”

It does matter. Or at least it should. The tension between police in the Deep South and young black men is generations old and hard to fix. Police have often advised drivers to call dispatch, put on on the emergency lights and drive to a well-lit space if they feel unsafe. Mothers of young black men make sure their sons know what to do, Wefts listened to his mother and looked down a dark road, and did exactly what he was supposed to do. 

Two back-up officers from the second cop car – Town of Saluda Police Officers Rose and Shorter – step into the Dash Cams frame. Both are young white men in their early twenties. In the Body Cam footage we hear one of them reassure the prisoner: “You are never going to be no safer than you are with this police officer,” he says. “We’re going to be right behind you.”

“Can I call my Mom?”

“No,” Browder snaps back. “You can’t call anybody until you get to the jail,” The Sheriff’s Deputy escorts the prisoner to his squad car. The back door is already open.

“Have a seat,” Deputy Browder says.  [2:26]

II.

With Mr. Werts safely restrained, the deputy immediately begins a brisk, meticulous search of his vehicle and a granular inspection of Werts’ personal belongings. By and by, the two town back-ups join him in the search. From the Dash Cam’s distance we watch the back-ups work the outer shell of the car like a dead bug and penetrate every pocket of the interior with their small nosy flashlights. Werts’ gym bag and team backpack are emptied on top of  the trunk. Each item is throughly scrutinized for the smallest glimpse of felonious intent. None are found. Browder’s Body Cam preserves the cop chat.

“I thought he was going going around me right here… I thought he was going to run in front of my car,” said one of the Saluda cops. 

“Yeah, he started going around you, don’t you think?” chimed in the other.

“He dipped off on me on Chappells Highway,” Browder asserts. “I mean it there wasn’t no other silver Dodge Charger.” 

Who said there was another Dodge Charger?

Less than a minute into the search, when a flashlight’s beam dances across a large white stain on the hood, a town cop  chirps, “What’s that?” 

Browder is stymied. “I have no idea.”[3:34] 

Minutes crawl by. The cops finally come up with nothing. The young man is clean, but Browder remains undeterred. He returns his attention to the large smear of white powdery moist material – perhaps two square feet of stuff – the best word for it – plastered across the hood of the car. Browder pokes his finger in the guck and examines his fingertip. We can see him hatching an idea. He bolts back of the squad car. He’s got a little mobile lab in the back. He picks out a small plastic pouch. It is a NARK II cocaine reagent pouch manufactured by Sirchie Acquisition of Youngsville, North Carolina, an inexpensive field test for a very specific drug. We watch as Browder collects a small amount of the moist material with a tiny swipe that comes with the kit. Browder is perplexed. We hear him wonder aloud, “What the fuck is that?… not even dry??…” 

The tiny swipe goes into the pouch containing three glass vials. As Browder seals the pouch with a plastic clip he annouces,  “We gonna test it and see.”

Browder pop! pop! pops the three little tubes in succession. The first vial contains cobalt thiocyanate which is supposed to turn blue in the presence of cocaine.The second pop is hydrochloric acid, and if the sample is really cocaine, the  two liquids together should turn pink. The third capsule contains chloroform, and when all three combine  the colors should separate with pink on the top and blue on the bottom or, alternately, a blue liquid with visible pink specks. [See Image]  The packaging instructions are cryptic and hard to suss, but look closely: a solid color – blue or pink – is NOT a positive result. Even if the officer understands the instructions, it is easy to see how the results could be misread. 

He shakes the packet vigorously and holds it in the light. “Take a look at what this shit is,” he mutters to no one in particular. He shakes the pouch again and taps it hard three times on the hood and takes another look. 

“Is it turning pink?!”

Tap!Tap!Tap!Tap!Tap!

The onlooking officers are astonished. “You’re kidding me!” one cries, Browder holds the packet up for the incredulous town cop to see.

“Turned pink, man!”

The town cop cackles. “What the hail??…”

“Cocaine, ain’t it?!…” Browder crows. “That’s pretty fucking crazy.” He walks away suddenly and makes a beeline for the back of his car. 

“What’s that white shit on the hood of your car, man?!”

“Birdshit,” the quarterback drawls. 

“Bird shit?!”

“Yeah.”

“That ain’t  bird shit!”

“I promise you that’s bird doo-doo.” 

“I promise you it’s not though!” Browder would not let go. 

“I swear to God it’s bird doo!” 

“Well, I swear to God it’s not because I just tested it and that turned pink…  That’s not bird poop!”  

“I Swear To God That’s Bird Doo Doo!”

“That’s not bird poop!”

“I swear to God…”

And on and on until Browder suddenly cuts it short and shuts the door, leaving the prisoner to implore,”What?! Wait?! What — What does it mean?!! “

The deputy is getting a phone call from headquarters, but before he picks up we can hear him scoff:

unless the bird snorted cocaine then!”  [Body Cam 10:37]

746 words

III.

A moment later Browder takes a call from Sheriff’s Office. “Hey.  Ok. This Dodge Charger it dipped off on me on Chappells highway… It was going like 80… ” 

For the first time (but not the last) Browder unwinds his version of events, the same story he tells in the Incident Report. A few one-sided pull-quotes from his spiel will suffice:

“Coming back around I shot, I guess, by it. He must have been pulling off on me some way…”

“I came back and I saw the same vehicle going by me again so I got back around it…”

“He has got white stuff all over the front of his vehicle…” 

“My little cocaine field test kit? It’s turning pink…”

“He’s saying it’s bird poop but I don’t believe anything he’s telling me.”

There’s a lot to unpack here. It seems likely that there were two silver Chargers on Chappells Highway that night, Browder clocks the first car going 78 mph, but by the time the Deputy turns his car around he has lost sight of his original prey. He drives four straight miles trying to catch up; but the speeding car is gone.  (“Coming back around I shot, I guess, by it….“). He turns around a second time and heads back towards the place where first saw the speeding car. Werts, on his way to school, passes him going in the opposite direction, and when Browder saw another late model silver Charger go by he immediately presumed it was the car he was chasing. Browder thinks, He must have dipped off the road when he saw saw me coming. So the Deputy turns around a third time and catches up with Werts lickety-split before he disappears completely. 

“Yeah. I mean it’s weird! I’m gonna send you a picture of it…”

“I understand he called. He called, like, way after… Just trying to get out of the stop, I guess, … 

“He almost run over Brantley. Brantley pulled in front of him. He was trying to just get away. That’s what he tried doing’ the first time.”

Now that claim was first made by Officer Brantley Rose on the Body Cam [3:15] during the cop chat. It was repeated and expanded upon by Browder when he was talking to HQ [13:28] and disproved by the Dash Cam [5:00] which clearly shows Shai slowly coming to a stop.  

Once he gets off the call Deputy Browder starts taking phone pics of the hood from every conceivable angle. He snaps away amid another cloud of chatter. He’s telling Officer Rose about field tests: 

“If anything, it would be like a one in a thousand case for these things to be faulty,” he tell him.. “I don’t think they would turn pink out of nowhere.”

Brantley agrees. “Bird Poop don’t test positive for cocaine.” 

Browder mentions the prisoner “plays for Georgia Southern or something…” 

“He got a thing in there for a quarterback scholarship,” Brantley concurs

“Well, he might be shit out of luck now,” Browder quips. [Body Cam 18:35]

Browder decides to interrogate the prisoner and we follow as he walks around to the shotgun side of his cop car and opens the rear door.

  “Alright, man. I don’t know what you got going on in your life or whatever, but that’s a field test kit. It’s distributed to us by the state. I mean if it turns pink or blue that means it’s positive for cocaine.”

As noted, it has to turn blue AND pink, in layers or spots. A solid color does not indicate a positive result, 

  “It doesn’t turn positive out of nowhere…” Browder asserts. [2:21 Body Cam]

Except that it does. 

Browder’s “little cocaine field test kit” is cheap in every sense of the word. Based on a simplistic technology more than a half-century old, NARK II field test kits cost less than $2.00 each, and every box comes with a disclaimer: 

“ALL TEST RESULTS MUST BE CONFIRMED BY AN APPROVED ANALYTICAL LABORATORY! The results of this test are merely presumptive… Reactions may occur with… both legal and illegal products.” 

By definition, a presumptive test is not reliable. It can only indicate the possible presence of a given drug and nothing more, and often that initial presumption is dead wrong. For example, one-third of all the positive field test results for cocaine in Las Vegas between 2010 and 2013 turned out to be false positive results. More recently…

An X-ray technician in Atlanta was charged with drug trafficking when his NARK II  indicated a false positive for methamphetamine. The offending samples were powdered incense and baking ingredients.

When a 52-year old Georgia man was pulled over in Rockville County for a busted tail light, he was arrested for possession of drugs instead. The Nark II came up positive for crack, but subsequent inquiry revealed that the broken white rocks that were found in his car were the remnants of a shattered breath mint. 

Then there was the infamous story of the Georgia grandmother who went to jail in Monroe County when the NARK II mistook a bag of blue cotton candy for meth… 

or the Ghanian newlyweds who were trying to have a baby and the wife was taking vitamin pills containing folic acid to encourage fertility. Both of them went to jail in Doraville, GA because a baggie of her vitamins tested positive for Ecstasy. 

And on and on.

At least nine companies manufacture and market presumptive field tests to law enforcement agencies nationwide. Sirchie is the industry leader so their NARK II product failures are mentioned most often, but there is no reason to believe that any of their competitors produce a better product. The limitations are inherent in the tech.  The color codes are confusing, the roadsides are often dark, the cops have too little training and believe too quickly, too easily in the results. The bottom line is cops are not chemists, and should not be doing chemical drug tests on the side of the road in the middle of the night. It should be a matter for labs to decide. But just as judges control the courts, cops control the streets; and over time the street police have grown comfortable using these flawed assays to help maintain their authority in the field. A badge, a gun and a little bag of chemicals. That’s why Shai Werts ordeal has everything to do with low-grade racism, bad policing, bad policy and confounding tech flawed at its core and nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with drugs. 

IV.

The last round of questioning produces little but more of the badminton “It’s Bird Poop!” – “It’s Not Bird Poop!” banter we’ve already heard. It has nothing to recommend it but absurdity. It is difficult to fathom how so much of what rightfully belongs to a talented young athlete could taken away based on any iteration of the following words:

“It doesn’t turn positive out of nowhere.”

“It’s. Bird. Shit. “

“That’s not bird shit. OK?”

“I swear to God…”

“It looks nothing like bird poop, man. We know what bird poop looks like. Bird poop’s small.”

“Can I – Can I – Can I say something?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s bird shit.”

“Okay. Hang on, man.” Browser suddenly closes the door and walks away, and as he walks we overhear a stunning  admission:

“Didn’t read his Miranda rights when he talked to me first!” 

Out loud. On his Body Cam. Spoken to himself. 

Continuing…

Browder has spied another squad car rolling up. As he walks around the front of his car he is all business, a busy bee who calls out to this new arrival, to someone we cannot see.

“He’s still saying it’s bird poop!” [23:43]

A distant voice calls back, “Why do you think it’s something else?”

Beneath his breath Browder groans – “God!” – and takes a full five seconds – busy, busy, busy  – before he can reply.

“I’m about to read him his rights. I gonna try to scrape it. It field tests positive for cocaine. Did you look at it. Did you…”

Perhaps Browder’s simply chaffing at the arrival of a superior officer like anyone else when the boss suddenly shows up. Perhaps it’s something else. 

Browder retrieves the dirty field test pouch from the front seat and holds it out triumphantly for his unseen colleague to see. 

“Is that not pink? 

“That’s pink,” the voice affirms.

“I mean I popped this. All clear. A brand new field test kit.” [24.22]

“Yes.” 

“OK. Dave’s on the way. I’m going to read him his rights. I’m gonna tell him if he don’t come clean — ” Catching himself, Browder settles for, “I’m going to scrape that all up. Take it back to the office and weigh it. I mean it might be like ten percent cocaine and the rest is fucking baby powder or baking soda or whatever the hell it is… [24:20]

“How did it get on the hood?”

“I don’t know. He’s making up shit, He could be telling the truth,” or “It could be somebody else’s cocaine, but it’s on his car.”

The fact that field tests are famously flawed is never discussed.

“Alright man. I’m gonna tell you right now. I’m gonna read your your rights. You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to an attorney…”

As the deputy recites the well-known words, the Dash Cam catches snatches of the town cops chatting with the new arrival, this unknown fourth cop who is out of our view. The townies offer to show him the auspicious splotch, and, as they lead him towards the front of the Charger, the fourth man finally ambles into the frame. We see an African-American officer in his early forties. He has “Sheriff” written across the back of his blue summer tee just like Browder, but this man’s body language is markedly different. Where Browder might be a little frantic, this man is a little laid back. He seems content to observe, maybe ask a question or two. 

Meanwhile in the cop car the formalities are through: “Do you understand your rights?” 

“Yeah.” Shai whispers. He seems to be composed on the outside too, but quietly, beneath his skin, he is freaking the fuck out. His success has just started. Everything he has worked so hard for is just now beginning to bear fruit, and suddenly without warning, his entire future is on the line… Over bird shit! 

“My heart was beating fast, and I was just thinking of how I was going to explain this to my parents and my coaches and how this is going to look to the public,” Shai later told the Greenville News. He knew he was going to jail when the deputy read him his rights, but he persisted in telling the truth anyway. 

“I have no any reason to lie about cocaine, right? I play football so I don’t do cocaine. I don’t do no drugs…  Like I just told you, it’s bird poop on the front of my car.”

“That’s a lot of bird poop, man.”

“I don’t know what to say.”

Browder knew he had only a few minutes left and he tries to get Shai to admit something that isn’t true. The deputy says darkly, “And then you chose not to  stop. And then you dipped off on me…  And you did admit that!”

No, he did not. 

“Yeah Right. I didn’t see you. I turned off but I didn’t see you coming on.”

Shai thinks the turn he made when he was looking for the road is what the deputy is referring to when he says, “You dipped off on me.” But that was another car, the original prey. That was the Charger that got away.  Browser never saw anyone dip, and he didn’t see Shai when Shai made his turn. Browder had his singular truth in mind, chapter and verse, before he ever told Shai to step out of the car.

Werts stood firm.

“I’m not going to pull over in the dark where nobody around can see outright. You know what’s been going on in the world. And no offense to you — but I did not feel comfortable, officer. Like, I wasn’t running. I called the lady on the phone. I told her, Can you please that I’m not running from the police. Can I just get to where’s it’s lighted. And I was going to pull over. I was not running. I wasn’t even —

“Why’d you dip off on me.”

“What do you mean?  I was trying to find a way back to this road! “

“Which way?”

“This road!”

“You’re on this road.” 

Browder is trying baffle Werts. The college student tries to explain that there’s another road down there. “You turn left… You reach the light, and then it’s a straight shot to my school” but Browder has no ears for it.

“What made you come on Chappells Highway?”

“Cause I can’t find the road!”

“Cause you dipped off on me, okay?” Browder concludes. “That’s enough.”

Walking away from the car, Browder calls out to one of his colleagues. “He admitted he turned off,” he says.

Following that, the cameras go black. 

Werts was booked at the Saluda County Detention Center, spent the night in jail, and was released on bond the next morning. In this regard, he was fortunate. Shai had resources. He could pay the bond, afford an attorney and he had the attention of an attentive press so he was able to walk back out of jail and  into the sunlight. People who can’t make bond often find themselves waiting behind bars  for a very long time simply because a flawed field test insisted that a speck of a powdered donut was really crack cocaine. 

Typically, a $2.00 roadside test is sufficient to make an arrest for suspicion of possession. The judge sets bail at the arraignment and schedules a date for trial. Pay the bail and you’re back on the street awaiting your day in court, but if you can’t pay bail you’ll wait for your trial in jail. But in the U.S. 95 percent of criminal charges don’t make it to trial. They’re settled in plea bargain. Plead guilty and you get two months; go to trial, you get two years. And while you decide, remember: we have a positive presumptive drug test on record against you while we’re waiting for the confirmation test to come back. There are often no good options. Out of more than 1.2 million people charged with illegal drug possession in the U.S. every year, it is estimated that over 100,000 people nationwide plead guilty to drug possession charges based solely on the results of  these shitty little $2. field tests. It is credibly estimated that  presumptive drug field tests yield false positive results more than 30 percent of the time. At that rate, there must currently be tens of  thousands of wrongful convictions going on the books every year as a result. Sometimes it take only a few days to straighten out, sometimes it can takes months until the trial rolls around. It happens a lot. 

Remember the Atlanta x-ray technician who had baking products instead of meth? He spent an entire month in the Fulton County jail waiting for a confirmation test  to exonerate him.

How about the man in Rockville County who was told his shattered breath mint was really crack? He got two days behind bars because “drug tests don’t lie!”

The Ghanian couple who were trying to have a baby spent two weeks in the county lockup before a judge released them on them on their own recognizance. By then, she was fired from her job for not showing up at work and he missed his swearing-in ceremony to become an American citizen. Still, it could have been worse. They could have sat in their respective cells for five months each which is how long it took for their confirmatory drug tests to return from the state lab: No Controlled Substance Found.. 

And it is hard to forget the well-traveled tale of the Georgia grandmother whose cotton candy tested positive for methamphetamine. Based on the findings of a $2. test the judge thought Grandma might be a major drug trafficker and set her bail at $1 million dollars. Unable to make bond she sat in jail waiting for trial for three months and, although she already had a granddaughter, she missed the birth of her twin grandsons before her confirmatory test declared, “No Controlled Substance Found.” It was blue cotton candy. 

Werts had a lot to lose too. As he sat in his cell that night he had no idea what had just happened or no idea how it was going to turn out. Was he going to go to the NFL or to jail? “While I was in there I was thinking about everything,” he told the Greenville News. “Man, you think about everything when you’re locked behind those walls.” 

The next several days were the worst of Werts’s life. The press got hold of the story, and he was suddenly in the national news cycle. He was suspended from the Eagles pending further investigation, and the next morning Georgia Southern practiced without him. He immediately agreed to take a private drug test for the Eagles. His family, his coaches and teammates all believed him. and it was obvious to everyone that this was some kind of crazy mistake. So no one was surprised when Eagle’s drug test came back first, fast and clean: No Controlled Substance Found.

The Sheriff’s Office sent a sample of the stuff to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division [SLED] for confirmation. The SLED test is the one which would count the most. Owing to the public face of the case, the defense attorney, the Sheriff’s Office and the solicitor for the 11th Circuit all urged the state lab to expedite this one as everyone involved anxiously wait for the results 

Then on Wednesday, the Saluda County Sheriff’s office, in a surprising bid for transparency, released all three cop cams that surveilled the scene of the crime. It was an odd move that signaled some internal concern that became clear in the next 24 hours.

Upon review of the video materials, the drug charge against Mr. Werts was summarily dropped by the Deputy Solicitor.  He told Werts’ attorney that charges such as these would not be filed on “his watch… As a prosecutor, I have an obligation to seek justice and not just to convict.”

The drug charge was dropped before the pivotal results from SLED came came back that very afternoon. Although confirmatory results can take months to return, in this case it took only eight days to get an answer: “No Controlled Substance Found.” 

It was all a bunch of bird shit. 

At the end of August the Saluda County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that there is an ongoing internal investigation into the conduct and professionalism of its Deputy Charles Browder III during the arrest of Shai Werts on July 31.

“We have noticed several things in the video that we want to take corrective actions on,” Saluda County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Toby Horne told the press. Noted were the ways Browder spoke to his prisoner and the way he kept interrupting Mr. Werts. The Greenville News, in its excellent coverage of this unfortunate events, discovered Deputy Browder was forced to resign from his last job at the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department, also in South Carolina, to avoid being fired for “conduct unbecoming an officer.” 

The Chief Deputy said that Browder will remain on duty as the internal investigation proceeds. He said the investigation should take about six weeks to conclude, and, in the interim, the Saluda County Sheriff’s Office would be reevaluating its use of presumptive field tests. The focus will be on providing manufacturers’ training videos so that Saluda’s Finest can better read the results. The fact that the field tests are famously flawed was never mentioned.

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