Man Sues Over Police Confusing Cocaine With Soap

By McCarton Ackerman 11/20/15

Alexander Bernstein believes he was a victim of racial profiling.

bar of soap.jpg

State police in Pennsylvania reportedly had difficulty telling the difference between soap and cocaine, prompting a New York man to file a $150,000 federal civil rights lawsuit after spending a month in jail as a result of the error.

Alexander J. Bernstein, 32, was pulled over with 26-year-old Annadel Cruz in November 2013 by troopers from the state police barracks in Fogelsville. Initially pulled over for a traffic violation, Cruz owned up to a smell of pot in the car and said she smoked earlier in the day. She gave police permission to search the car and the trooper found a bag with two brick-size packages belonging to Bernstein, which Cruz explained was homemade soap for his sister.

A field test at the scene showed that the packages in question were cocaine. Both 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.

Bernstein was sent to prison under $500,000 bail and he spent 29 days behind bars before being freed on a significantly lower $25,000 bill. Two days after being released, lab tests showed that the packages in Cruz’s car were indeed soap and all charges against him were dropped.

His lawsuit alleges that he overheard the two officers discussing the field test and that when one trooper explained that the package tested negative, the other told him to “make it positive.” Bernstein also said he was forced to pay thousands of dollars in legal fees and court costs, in addition to the priceless cost of missing Thanksgiving with his infant son while locked up. He is also seeking an apology for wrongdoing that he claims the investigators still refuse to admit.

His attorney, Joshua Karoly, suggested that Bernstein and Cruz were victims of racial profiling.

"I think it is a nice car with out-of-state plates and a Hispanic female behind the wheel that prompted the traffic stop,” wrote Karoly via email. "If it was me driving that car, this wouldn't have happened ... [Bernstein] did not receive so much as an apology from the defendants.”

All charges against Cruz were also dropped, but she has yet to file a lawsuit.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.