A New York man who spent a month in jail after Pennsylvania state police mistook homemade soap he was traveling with for cocaine has filed a lawsuit.
Alexander J. Bernstein, 32, says Pennsylvania troopers conspired to fabricate evidence he was transporting drugs, and they knew that the field test they used on the soap was unreliable.
In his lawsuit, he claims 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 wants a jury trial and is seeking damages in excess of $150,000, and says investigators refused to admit that they were wrong, when they knew they were wrong.
The other element at play: He wasn't the driver of the Benz he was traveling in, a Latino woman was.
"I think it is a nice car with out-of-state plates and a Hispanic female behind the wheel" that prompted the traffic stop, said Bernstein's attorney, who is white.
"If it was me driving that car, this wouldn't have happened."
"[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.
"Man jailed after cops mistook soap for cocaine on I-78 files suit" [The Morning Call]