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 last summer, a small time drug bust on lonely South Carolina highway gained national attention and sparked fresh debate on a variety of continuing American dilemmas. Standards and practices for police and policing were 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 cheap, 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 offer multiple viewpoints that do not necessarily line-up. In one instance, a statement spoken on the Body Cam is disproved in a previous Dash Cam frame. Since all three cop cam videos were released to the public by the Saluda County Sheriff’s Department we can watch the incident unfold from three points of view. We can see the body language and hear the inflections. We can eavesdrop on the mumbled asides when the speaker thought no one was listening. It is a voyeur’s view of a disturbingly absurd incident, a cornucopia of modern surveillance, an embarrassment of snitches. There is the Dash Cam footage from the deputy’s car that silently 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 and records his interrogation. The entire event lasts about 33 minutes. The videos are embedded in the following text.
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 said 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. That’s when he thought was “the same Dodge Charger” pass him again. He turned around a third time, caught up with this car lickety-split, ran the plates and came up with nothing. So he turned on his flashing blue lights – no siren yet – and the two cars barreled down the highway in tandem towards the little town of Saluda.
When the Dash Cam video begins the deputy is already following the Charger. The blues go on less than a minute in [Dash Cam 0:45] and a few seconds later the driver of the Charger starts flashing his emergency lights in response. The road is straight, narrow and dark. Streetlights are few. When the blues start to flash 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 told him to 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, allrighty. I’ll let him know.
Werts: OK.Thank you.
Seconds later, Deputy Browder sounds his siren. [Dash-Cam 2:23]
As they approach the town Werts sees a second set of flashing lights coming directly at him from the front. It’s another police car, and Shai has no choice but to roll to a stop, sandwiched now in a single lane between the two pulsating vehicles. Mercifully, not far away, an odd street lamp a casts a pool of light on the road up ahead. The sirens have stopped wailing but the blues continue to flash.
Deputy Browder’s Body Cam takes over now as he steps out of his cop car and walks purposefully towards the Charger. Browder has a deep southern accent:
“Want to step out for me, man? Step out for me.”
“Want my I.D.?”
“Yeah. Step out for me.” [Body Cam 0:31]
Shai Werts is going into his junior year at Georgia Southern University in nearby Statesboro. A quarterback for the GSU Eagles, Werts is definitely a rising star. He has started 24 games over the past two seasons, 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 a bowl victory last year. The driver who steps out of the Charger is an immensely talented, deeply religious athlete with a tattoo of his family on his upper arm and a verse from the Bible inked across his chest. At 5’11” he is not particularly tall for 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!?”
“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 cop but trying to mollify the him instead. 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.”
“On the road.”
“So you weren’t going 78 mph.”
“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. [Dash Cam 6:30]
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 that night. Deputy Browder was a man on a mission, and his was a verdict in search of a crime.
“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?”
The logic is lost. “I’m going to jail?” Shai 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 almost too tangled to fix. Southern police departments have advised worried drivers to call dispatch, put on the emergency lights and drive to a well-lit space if they feel unsafe. Mothers of young black men like Shai make sure their sons know what to do, and looking down a dark country road, Shai did exactly what she said to do.
The two back-up officers who arrive in the second cop car are not sheriff’s deputies. Saluda town police officers Rose and Shorter step into the Dash Cams frame. One is quiet and one is goofy, and both were young white men in their early twenties. In the Body Cam footage we hear one of the town cops 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 interjects. “You can’t call anybody until you get to the jail.” The Deputy escorts his prisoner to the squad car. The back door is already open.
“Have a seat,” Deputy Browder says. [Body Cam 2:26]
With Mr. Werts safely restrained, the arresting officer immediately begins a brisk, meticulous search of his vehicle and a granular inspection of his personal belongings. By and by, the two town cops join him in his search. From the Dash Cam’s distance we watch as the back-ups silently work the outer shell of the car and penetrate every pocket of its interior with their small nosy flashlights. Werts’ gym bag and team backpack are emptied on top of the trunk, and each item is overly scrutinized for the smallest glimpse of felonious intent. None are found. Browder’s Body Cam preserves the cop chat:
“I thought he was going around me right here… I thought he was going to run in front of my car,” said the goof.
“Yeah, he started going around you, don’t you think?” the quiet one agreed.
“He dipped off on me on Chappells Highway,” Browder asserts. “I mean it there wasn’t no other silver Dodge Charger.”
Note: 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, one of the town cop chirps, “What’s that?”
Browder is stymied. “I have no idea.”[ Body Cam 3:34]
Minutes crawl by. The cops finally decide there s nothing to find. The young man is clean, but Browder is 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 an idea hatching in his skull. He bolts back of his squad car; he’s got a little mobile lab in the back. He picks out a small plastic pouch – a NARK II cocaine reagent kit manufactured by Sirchie Acquisition of Youngsville, North Carolina . It is a very inexpensive field test for a very specific drug. We watch as the deputy collects a small amount of the moist material with a tiny swipe that comes with the kit. Browder is visibly perplexed by the stuff. 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 declares to no one in particular, “We gonna test it and see.”
He 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 really is 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.
Browder shakes the packet vigorously and holds it in the light. “Take a look at what this shit is,” he mutters. He shakes it again and taps it three times hard on the hood and takes second look.
“Is it turning pink?!”
The onlooking officers are astonished. “You’re kidding me!” one cop cries, Browder holds the packet up for the incredulous to see.
“Turned pink, man!” [Body Cam 9:28]
The goofy cop cackles. “What the hail??…”
“Cocaine, ain’t it?!…” Browder crows. “That’s pretty fucking crazy.”
Suddenly, he bolts away and makes a beeline for the back of the squad car where the In-Car Cam records the following:
“What’s that white shit on the hood of your car, man?!”
“Birdshit,” the quarterback drawls. [In-Car Cam 15:16]
“That ain’t bird shit!”
“I promise you that’s bird doo-doo.”
“I promise you it’s not though!”
“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, back and forth, until Browder suddenly cuts it short and shuts the door, leaving his prisoner to implore,”What?! Wait?! What — What does it mean?!! “
It means the deputy is getting a phone call from headquarters, but before he picks up we can hear him finish a final thought aloud:
“…unless the bird snorted cocaine then!” [Body Cam 10:37]
Deputy Browder is talking on his cell phone:
“Hey… Ok… This Dodge Charger it dipped off on me on Chappells highway… It was going like 80… ”
For the first time (and not the last) Browder unwinds his version of events. It is the same story he will tell in the Incident Report. A few lopsided pull-quotes from his roadside 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 clocked the first car going 78 mph, but by the time the Deputy turned his car around he had lost sight of his original prey. He drove for four straight miles trying to catch up to the Charger; but the speeding car had disappeared. (“Coming back around I shot, I guess, by it….“). He turned around a second time and headed back towards the place where first saw the speeding car. Werts, on his way back to school, passed Browder going in the opposite direction, and when the deputy saw another late model silver Charger go by he immediately presumed that was the car he was chasing. It wasn’t. Browder thought, He must have dipped off the road when he saw me coming, so he turned around a third time and caught up with Werts lickety-split before he could completely disappear.
The “white stuff?” “Browder admits “It’s weird,” and tells HQ, “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 doin’ the first time.”
No, he didn’t and no, he wasn’t. Saluda Police Officer Brantley Rose first claimed that Werts tried to cut around him during the cop chat about 7 minutes back [Body Cam 3:15]. Deputy Browder exaggerates that assertion here while he’s talking to HQ [Body Cam 13:28]; but the idea that Werts “almost run over Brantley” is clearly disproved by the Dash Cam precisely at five minutes into the video [Dash-Cam 5:00]. The camera shows Shai coming to a slow, straight stop.
After the call with headquarters Deputy Browder starts taking phone pics of the stuff on the hood from every conceivable angle. He keeps snapping away amid another cloud of chatter. He is telling Officer Rose about field tests:
“If anything, it would be like a one in a thousand case for these things to be faulty,” the deputy is saying. “I don’t think they would turn pink out of nowhere.”
Brantley Rose agrees. “Bird Poop don’t test positive for cocaine.”
Browder mentions that the prisoner “plays for Georgia Southern or something…”
“He got a thing in there for a quarterback scholarship.”
“Well, he might be shit out of luck now,” Browder snorts [Body Cam 18:35]
We follow as he walks around to the shotgun side of his 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 insists.
Except that it does.
Browder’s “little cocaine field test kit” is cheap in every way. Based on 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 does not prove; it presumes. At best, it can only indicate the possible presence of a given drug 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 the roadside drug test indicated a false positive for methamphetamine. The offending samples were powdered incense and baking ingredients…
and a 52-year old Georgia man was pulled over for a busted taillight but was arrested for possession of drugs instead when the Nark II came up positive for crack. Subsequent inquiry revealed that the broken white rocks that were found in his car were pieces of a shattered breath mint…
and a Georgia grandmother was held indefinitely when a NARK II mistook her bag of blue cotton candy for crystal meth…
and the Ghanaian newlyweds trying to have a baby. Both went to jail because the Mrs. was taking vitamins with folic acid to encourage fertility. The cheap drug test said Exctasy…
and on and on.
At least nine companies manufacture and market inexpensive presumptive field tests to law enforcement agencies nationwide. Sirchie is the industry leader so its 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 can be dark, the cops have too little training, believe too quickly and are taken in too easily by presumptive results. The bottom line is that cops are not chemists, and should never be doing chemical drug tests on the side of the road in the middle of the night. It should always 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 position in the field. In that sense, a badge, a gun, zip-loc handcuffs and a little bag of chemicals are all just tools of the trade of Authority. That’s why Shai Werts roadside ordeal has everything to do with bad policing, bad policy, low-grade racism and confounding technology flawed at its core; and it has nothing – absolutely nothing – to do with drugs.
The last round of questioning produces little but more of the badminton “It’s Bird Poop!” – “Not Bird Poop!” banter we’ve already heard. It has nothing to recommend but its absurdity. It is difficult to fathom how the future of a talented young athlete could casually 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?”
“That’s bird shit.”
“Okay. Hang on, man.” Browser suddenly closes the car door and as he walks away we hear him speaking to himself again:
“Didn’t read his Miranda rights when he talked to me first…”
Out loud. On his Body Cam. Clearly stated. [Body Cam 23:27]
Browder has spied another squad car rolling up. As he walks around to the front of his car he is all business now, He calls out to this new arrival, to someone we cannot see.
“He’s still saying it’s bird poop!”
A small voice calls back from a distance, “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’m 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 would 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 off-camera 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.” [Body Cam 24:22 ]
“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…
“How did it get on the hood?”
“I don’t know. He’s making up shit, He could be telling the truth. 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 you your rights. You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to an attorney…”
As the deputy recites the litany, the Dash Cam catches snatches of the town cops chatting with the new guy, 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 just like Browder, but the man’s body language is markedly different. Where Browder might be a little frenetic, this man is a little laid back. He seems content to observe, maybe ask a question or two. [Dash-Cam 31:12]
Meanwhile in the cop car the formalities have finally been observed:
“Do you understand your Rights?”
“Yeah.” Shai whispers. He seems composed on the outside too, but quietly, beneath his skin, he is freaking out. His success is just starting. Everything he has worked so hard for is just now beginning to bear fruit. Now, 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 local news. He said 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?” he told Browder. “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 knows now he has only a few minutes left to get Shai to admit to something that isn’t true. The good cop routine was over as the bad cop bared his teeth.
“And then you chose not to stop.” he suddenly barks, “And then you dipped off on me… And you did admit that!” [In-Car Cam 33:12]
No, he did not admit that.
“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 the turn the deputy is referring to when he says, “You dipped off on me,” but that was another car. That was Browder’s original prey. That was the Charger that got away. Browder never saw anyone dip, nor did he see Shai when he made his turn. Like the NARK II, he made a erroneous presumption, and he believed that result before he ever asked Shai to step out of the car.
But Werts continued to persist.
“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! “
“You’re on this road.”
Werts is baffled. 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, he calls out to one of his colleagues. “He admitted he turned off,” he says. [Body Cam 27:37]
No, he did not.
After 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. He knew he was fortunate. He had resources, and could afford to pay the bond, hire an attorney; and he had the attention of a sympathetic press so the next morning Shai was able to walk out of jail and into the sunlight. As noted, people who cannot make bond can 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 cheap roadside test can provide sufficient cause 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. Most are settled through plea bargain. Plead guilty and you’ll get two months; go to trial and you’ll get two years. And while you decide what to do, remember: they have a (false) positive presumptive test on record against you. You’re waiting for a confirmation test to clear you but that can take months to come back. So 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 these 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 – as with Shai Werts – it takes only a few days to straighten things out, sometimes it takes months for the lab results to come back and for the trial to roll roll 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 who was told his breath mint was crack? He got two days behind bars because, you know, “Drug tests don’t lie!”
The Ghanaian couple who were trying to have a baby each spent two weeks in the county lockup before a judge released them on their own recognizance. By that time, she had been 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 test to come back from the state lab: No Controlled Substance Found.
And the well-traveled tale of the Georgia grandmother whose blue cotton candy tested positive for methamphetamine? Based on the findings of a cheap drug test the judge thought Grandma moth be a major drug trafficker and set her bail at $1 million dollars. Unable to make bond she sat in jail for three months awaiting trial. Although she already had a granddaughter, she missed the birth of her twin grandsons before her confirmatory test also declared, “No Controlled Substance Found.”
Werts had a lot to lose too. As he sat in his cell that night he had no idea what had just happened or how it was going to turn out. Was he going to the NFL or to jail? “While I was in there I was thinking about everything,” he told the press. “Man, you think about everything when you’re locked behind those walls.”
The next several days were the worst of Werts’ life. The press got hold of the story, and he was suddenly in the cross-hairs of a 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 and supported him. 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 completely clean: No Controlled Substance Found.
The Sheriff’s Office sent a sample of the stuff on the hood to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division [SLED] for confirmation. The SLED test would be the one which would count the most. Owing to the public face of the case, the defense attorney, the Sheriff’s Office and the county persecutor all urged the state lab to expedite this one. While everyone was waiting, in a surprising bid for transparency, the Saluda County Sheriff’s office released all three cop cams that captured the scene of the crime. It was an odd move that seemed to signal some kind of internal concern that would become clear over the next 24 hours. Upon review of the video materials, the prosecutor summarily dropped the drug charge against Mr. Werts. The speeding charge – which was also bogus – remained. He told Werts’ attorney that drug charges such as these would not be filed on his watch, expelling, “As a prosecutor, I have an obligation to seek justice and not just to convict.”
So the drug charge was dropped in the morning even before the pivotal results from SLED came back that very afternoon. 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 was 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 these unfortunate events, discovered that Deputy Browder was forced to resign from his last job at the Lexington County South Carolina Sheriff’s Department in order to avoid being fired for “conduct unbecoming an officer.”
“[I’ve] made some mistakes that I fully regret and have learned from,” Browder wrote when applying to Saluda County for a job. He said he took “full responsibility” for his actions, but earlier this year he received an another oral warning from his Saluda superior for “insubordination.” Chief Deputy Horn said that Browder would remain on active duty while the investigation goes forward, and he noted at the time that the process should take about six weeks to conclude. By November, with no conclusion in sight, local reporters had to file a FOIA request to find out that Browder was never disciplined for his actions on Chappell’s Highway. Despite the Sheriff Department’s stated concerns, the administrative review narrowly determined that Browder’s actions did not violate any department policies. The Sheriff’s Office added that it will continue to use the cheap field tests that falsely impeached Werts, but the deputies have now been told to not press charges based on a single positive result. “We’ll wait for lab results to come back,” the Chief Deputy promised, which is the same thing as saying From now on we’ll follow the instructions.
The intrinsic flaws in the cheap drug test were never addressed, and Charles Browder continues to remain on active duty.