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Man Who Spent 29 Days In Jail For Possession Of Soap, Sues Police

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A man has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit, following his wrongful arrest and incarceration for having in the trunk of his rental car, a bar of soap.

The bar of homemade soap was intended for his fellow passenger’s sister, but was mistaken for cocaine by Pennsylvania state police officers.

The Morning Call reports:

Alexander J. Bernstein, 32, alleges that troopers from the state police barracks at Fogelsville conspired to fabricate evidence that he was transporting drugs, and knew that the field test they used on the soap wasn’t reliable.

He says in the suit that he was forced to pay thousands of dollars in court costs and legal fees, and missed Thanksgiving with his 17-month-old son before the charges were dropped. Bernstein, who is seeking a jury trial and damages in excess of $150,000, also complains in the suit that investigators have refused to admit that they were wrong.

“[Bernstein] did not so much as receive an apology from the defendants,” his attorney, Joshua Karoly, wrote in the suit.

Bernstein was a passenger in a Mercedes-Benz that was pulled over on Interstate 78 in South Whitehall Township on Nov. 13, 2013.

According to a 2013 criminal complaint, a state trooper stopped the Mercedes’ driver, 26-year-old Annadel Cruz of New York, on westbound I-78 near the Cedar Crest Boulevard exit because she was approaching 60 mph in a 55 mph zone and was riding a traffic line for about a half-mile.

When questioned, Cruz told the trooper the car was a rental and they were driving from New York to Florida. The trooper told her he smelled marijuana and she said she had smoked earlier in the day, but not in the car. She gave police permission to search the car.

According to the police report, Bernstein told police he had a bag in the trunk and gave police permission to search it. In the bag, the trooper found two brick-size packages, which were covered in clear plastic wrap and red tape.

Cruz told police the packages contained soap she had made for her sister in Florida, but a field test showed that the substance was cocaine. The packages weighed 5.2 pounds. Police said they also found a small amount of marijuana in Cruz’s bra.

The couple were charged with possession with intent to deliver cocaine, possession of cocaine, conspiracy and possession of drug paraphernalia. Cruz also was charged with possession of a small amount of marijuana, disregarding traffic lanes and speeding.

In the lawsuit, Bernstein claims he pretended to be asleep at the barracks after he was arrested, and overhead troopers discussing the field test. One trooper said the package tested negative for cocaine, the suit states.

“Well … make it positive,” another trooper replied, according to the suit.



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