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Florida Deputy Falsifies Drug Field-Test Results, Freeing 11 From Jail

by Ed Lyon 

Steven O’Leary was a preacher before switching his career to law enforcement. The career-changing, job-hopping cop held jobs at two different departments before being hired as a deputy with Florida’s Martin County Sheriff Department (“MCSD”) in February 2018. O’Leary’s record with his prior departments was clean, according to a recent WPTV news broadcast. 

In O’Leary’s 11-month stint with the MCSD, he proved to be particularly adept at narcotics busts. He made 80 drug arrests, turning in 120 alleged illegal drugs during this relatively short period.

A major heroin bust occurred when he was dispatched to a fast-food restaurant parking lot to check on a man asleep in his van. A baggie with an astounding 92 grams of what O’Leary claimed to be the “white horse” was discovered in the van’s driver-side door. An amount of heroin this large landed Matthew Crull in jail on a $500,000 bond and facing a potential 25-year prison sentence. 

Hope began to dawn for Crull and 79 other of O’Leary’s suspects on January 9, 2019. A prosecutor from the Florida State Attorney’s Office phoned the MCSD to report major problems with three of the arrests O’Leary had made. The supposed narcotics were not really controlled substances at all, according to that region’s crime lab. One of the items was ordinary sand. Another turned out to be headache powder, although it would not be bringing any relief for the many headaches to come for O’Leary and the MCSD. 

According to a March 2018 piece in The Washington Post, Radley Balko stated that field drug-testing kits show false positives in 20 percent to 33 percent of cases. After the lab uncovered three-for-three of O’Leary’s evidentiary substances to be benign while the bad test results kept on coming like Indians at Custer’s Last Stand, he was fired from the MCSD on January 15, 2019. 

Eleven, now former defendants—including Crull—were released from custody. 

That will probably be only the beginning as deputies start the process of re-investigating O’Leary’s 80 arrests and retesting continues on the 120 alleged controlled substances he submitted as “evidence.” 

Authorities are fairly certain that O’Leary was not actually planting purported drugs on anyone—he just took whatever he could find and stated it was a controlled substance. In Crull’s case, the alleged 92 grams of “heroin” submitted by O’Leary turned out to be Tide laundry detergent. 

The taint of O’Leary’s unsupportable arrests has made it untenable to prosecute those cases that actually did involve narcotics, Sheriff Dougherty stated. The MCSD is offering assistance to the many innocent former defendants to expunge their arrests, plus financial assistance to reimburse court costs. 

O’Leary might face criminal charges himself. 



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