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Student sues after being jailed in mistaken bust

College student Janet Lee filed a federal lawsuit against Philadelphia police for jailing her for three weeks on mistaken drug charges.
/ Source: The Associated Press

When college freshman Janet Lee packed her bags for a Christmas trip home two years ago, her luggage contained three condoms filled with flour — devices that she and some friends made as a joke.

Philadelphia International Airport screeners found the condoms, and their initial tests showed they contained drugs. The Bryn Mawr College student was arrested on drug trafficking charges and jailed. Three weeks later, she was released after a lab test backed her story, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Thursday.

Lee filed a federal lawsuit last week against city police, seeking damages for pain and suffering, financial loss, and emotional distress. She was arrested on Dec. 21, 2003, and was held on $500,000 bail and faced up to 20 years in prison had she been convicted of the drug charges.

“I haven’t let myself be angry about what happened, because it would tear me apart,” Lee said. “I’m not sure I can bear to face it. I’m amazed at how naive I was.”

Opium and cocaine?
Airport screeners found the condoms filled with white powder in Lee’s checked luggage shortly before she was to board a plane to Los Angeles to visit her family. She said she told city police they were filled with flour. She said she made them as a joke and would squeeze them to relieve stress.

Police told her a field test showed that the powder contained opium and cocaine, according to the Inquirer. A lab test later proved the substance was flour — and prosecutors dropped the charges, the newspaper reported.

Lee’s lawyers, former prosecutors David Oh and Jeremy Ibrahim, say that either the field test was faulty or someone fixed the results.

Ibrahim said lawsuit was filed near the end of the two-year statute of limitations because Lee, now a junior, was emotionally devastated.

“She lost significant face with this event,” Ibrahim said.

Police department spokesman Capt. Benjamin Naish and district attorney’s office spokeswoman Cathie Abookire declined to comment.