Last May, Sarasota, Florida Sheriff’s Deputy Dominic Fornal followed Joseph McNeal’s Jaguar out of a parking lot, then pulled McNeal over. The reason? Dep. Fornal claimed he could smell marijuana coming from the car. Even though the car was traveling at 35 mph. And the windows were up. Oh, and there was no marijuana in the car. Fornal did arrest McNeal and charge him with a DUI, though, even though McNeal’s BAC was about half the legal limit.
Fornal’s dash cam and wireless microphone clearly show McNeal, denying the search. More deputies arrived. They brought in a drug dog, which miraculously didn’t alert. They searched the car anyway, based solely on Dep. Fornal’s obvious olfactory gifts. He must have some bloodhound in him.
It was a thorough search. They went through all the stuff McNeal and his girlfriend had in the car. They made McNeal take off his shoes and socks. They made him turn the socks inside out. They ripped up the interior of McNeal’s car. They pulled down trim and fabric lining. They found nothing. They then brought in another dog. They searched a second, third, and fourth time. Still no sign of the drugs that beckoned Dep. Fornal’s nose like a fresh chess pie cooling on the neighbor’s windowsill. For some reason, Dep. Fornal then turned off his wireless microphone. Shortly thereafter—we’re a good 90 minutes into the stop, now—another deputy miraculously found a single burnt marijuana cigarette in the trunk. They had missed it during all of those prior searches. They must have been distracted by Dep. Fornal’s live mic. I mean, that’s the only explanation I can imagine.
The state’s attorney later dropped all charges against McNeal. Once he was released, McNeal was free to pick up his car, which the deputies had graciously left in a muddy field. They didn’t bother repairing the damage.
And what about Fornal?
Fornal’s supervisor, Maj. Kevin Kenney, described that search as “going a little too far,” though overall, he stands by the deputy’s actions that night. Kenney said his deputy operated entirely within department policy.
Everyone together, now: Then there’s something wrong with your goddamned policy.
On the plus side, that admission could help McNeal establish “pattern or practice” in his inevitable lawsuit.
But don’t think the sheriff’s department didn’t learn anything from all of this. In fact, they learned a pretty darned important lesson about how to prevent an embarrassing incident like this from happening again:
Fornal will no longer have a camera in his car.