You Could Snort it, But That Would be Wrong

By Dirk Hanson 05/11/11

Man busted for bringing tortilla flour home for his family.

Attention officers: This is not cocaine.
Photo via shaimas

A bewildered driver in North Carolina was cleared of narcotics charges yesterday, after the arresting officers concluded that the 91 pounds of contraband in his car wasn’t cocaine after all. Viewers old enough to recall watching the Andy Griffith Show will remember the nervous, bumbling Deputy Barney Fife, played by Don Knotts, who arrested people first and figured out the crime later in the fictional community of Mayberry, North Carolina. It seems something of the same mentality was at work recently in the very real town of Asheville, North Carolina. Deputies in that town converged on a car stopped along Interstate 240, driven by a Hispanic man in need of sleep after a three-day drive from California. Antonio Hernandez Carranza’s English was poor, and there are conflicting stories, but evidently, the officers were convinced the man was intoxicated--and apparently were dying to check the car for narcotics. “They didn’t walk up asking him to get out of the car,” a Hispanic advocate later told local media. “They came over, pulled him out of the car threw him on the ground, put their knee in his back and roughed him up.” Furthermore, Antonio Hernandez Carranza passed a Breathalyzer test. But when additional officers arrived with a narcotics dog to sniff Carranza’s baggage, the dog alerted them to a suspicious substance that three successive narcotics field tests showed to be cocaine. A lot of it. 91 pounds of it, in fact—which would have been a hell of a bust for the Merry Mayberry Ossifers, except that further testing at the State Bureau of Investigation determined that the substance in question was tortilla dough, meant as a gift for the man’s family in Tennessee. The cocaine charges were dropped, but the humorless county law officers still pinned him with a “failure to stop for officers” charge. Carranza’s advocate said the man barely spoke English, and was confused and exhausted from his drive.

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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]