Vitamins just showed a new side effect: prison time.
The story begins in Mankato, Minn., on Nov. 14, 2014 when police pulled over 31-year-old Joseph “Joey” Burrell for a traffic violation. Aware that Burrell had a history with drugs, the cops seized a bag of blue powder from his vehicle, suspecting that it was an illegal substance.
According to police reports, police performed an initial field test on the substance, which appeared conclusive. Blue Earth County assistant attorney Chris Rovney confirmed to the press that the powder “had tested positive for amphetamine.”
Blue Earth County, home to 11 cities and 23 townships, handles a variety of services for the region—including government. Using this positive identification, which can lead to multiple possession charges, law enforcement transferred Burrell to the municipality’s local jail.
Burrell’s name was soon added to the county’s online jail roster, updated daily, with the charge “possession of a schedule I substance.” Burrell, who had just recently completed a drug rehabilitation program, admitted to taking drugs in the past. But these pills, he insisted, were merely vitamins. (According to CBS Local News, Burrell has also faced charges for domestic assault, stalking, and kidnapping.)
“I told the judge I couldn’t plead guilty to something I knew wasn’t a drug,” Burrell said to the Mankato Free Press. “They set my bail at $250,000 for vitamins.”
Sure that they had nailed a repeat drug offender; authorities set Burrell’s trial for early February. But as he sat waiting in prison, the “drugs” that got him there remained untested. On Feb. 2, two days before he was set to face trial (and roughly three months after the arrest), the results of the official test on the powder came back: it was vitamins.
Upon learning of the mistake, authorities immediately released Burrell, and dropped the multiple felony possession charges against him. “I was furious, I was hot, I was pissed off,” Burrell said of the event. “At the same time it was, like, unbelievable.”
But while the test results themselves took many weeks to come back, Burrell blames the prosecutors involved for waiting to test the substance.
The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, a division of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, says the test they performed followed protocol. “The BCA received the evidence in question for testing on Dec. 16, 2014, and provided test results to the county on Feb. 2, 2015,” BCA spokesperson Jill Oliveira told The Daily Beast. “That 48-day turnaround is consistent with the BCA’s 2014 average turnaround time of 49 days for drug testing.”
While Oliveira is open about the turnaround time for results, she says her organization isn’t to blame for Burrell’s imprisonment. “The BCA has no role in the decision-making process about whether an individual is held or charged.”
The Mankato Police Narcotics Division could not be reached for comment.