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Heroin or detergent? Police say Florida deputy falsified drug tests, yielding at least 11 wrongful arrests.

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By LULI ORTIZ, WPEC

STUART, Fla. (CIRCA via WPEC) — "I had 92 grams of laundry soap in my door, and that's how I was falsely charged for trafficking of heroin," said Matthew Crull, of Jensen Beach, Florida.

Crull is one of 11 people released from county jail after Martin County Sheriff William Snyder fired former Deputy Steven O'Leary, who was terminated for allegedly falsifying narcotics evidence.

The 28-year-old says he spent 41 days behind bars. He is now back home with his girlfriend and dogs, but is devastated because he says he missed out on big events, like Christmas last month.

"It just wasn't a fun day," Crull said, with tears in his eyes.

On Dec. 5, 2018, deputies were dispatched to a Kentucky Fried Chicken parking lot, along NW Federal Highway in Jensen Beach, about a suspicious van.

Before they arrived, paramedics found Crull asleep in his car.

"Police corruption is something you always hear about or you see in the movies; you don’t think it's actually going to happen."
Matthew Crull, wrongfully arrested

According to the arrest report, O'Leary said he discovered a white, powder-like substance inside Crull's van. He claims after conducting a field test, the powder came back positive for heroin.

But Crull says it was Tide powdered laundry detergent.

"He showed me a picture of the field test kit that he supposedly conducted on his phone," Crull said. "He never actually showed me the field test kit."

A judge charged Crull with trafficking heroin days before the sheriff’s office fired O'Leary.

"It made the situation very real," Crull said. "He raised my bond to $100,000 to half a million dollars, so there was really no way I was getting out of jail."

In fact, the sheriff's office ran the tests afterward, revealing the substances used in some of O'Leary's arrests weren't drugs.

The other 10 people released from jail are Maxwell Tatum, Nicole McCrory, Michael Lauderdale Jr., Melissa Morales, Jabari Schweitzer, Yener Lopez, Yordany Rodriguez-Gomez, Marialys Perez, Jason Farrenkope and Ashley Michalski.

According to their arrests reports, some, including Crull, had other drugs on them during their arrests, but those misdemeanor charges were eventually dismissed.

"Police corruption is something you always hear about or you see in the movies," Crull said. "You don’t think it's actually going to happen."

Cull is now hoping to move forward with his life.

"Go back to work, and just kind of pick things up where I left off. Put it all behind me," he said.

Additional cases are pending and could be impacted.

Right now, there are about 120 drug samples being tested in a regional lab.

As of Monday night, O'Leary had not been charged.

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