FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Seven bottles of Colombian shampoo landed Donaldo Visbal in jail for 14 days.
Visbal said he brought the shampoo to Fort Lauderdale as a favor for a friend in November 2009. During a luggage search at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, the bottles caught the eye of federal agents.
Visbal said he was shocked when agents told him the shampoo tested positive for cocaine.
Visbal, a government lawyer who flies here four times a year to visit family and friends in Miami, asked them to test the shampoo again.
"I kept telling them they were making a mistake," he said recently from his home in Barranquilla, Fla.
With bail set at $250,000, he stayed in jail for two weeks. He was released after a test by the Broward Sheriff's Office Crime Lab confirmed Visbal had only been transporting shampoo.
Now Visbal, 33, is suing the Broward Sheriff's Office on a claim of false arrest.
Filed in October 2010, the lawsuit was dismissed by Circuit Judge John Bowman in June. The Sheriff's Office argued the complaint admits there was probable cause for an arrest, and the judge agreed.
Visbal's attorney, Richard Diaz, has since amended the complaint to clarify his argument.
"Our lawsuit is only saying they had a right to detain him, but not to arrest him," Diaz said.
Richard Woulfe, an attorney representing the Sheriff's Office, said the case has no merit. He has filed a motion to dismiss.
The next hearing is set for Nov. 7.
Visbal's attorney argues the deputies should have had the Crime Lab immediately test the shampoo.
Certain soaps tested in the field will give a false positive for cocaine, said Randy Hilliard, a technical analyst in the BSO Crime Lab.
"They should not have waited," said Diaz, a former detective with the Miami-Dade Police Department. "They should have known it could have been a false positive reading."
Hilliard said the lab would have tested sooner had the deputies asked for an expedited test, but that didn't happen.
Visbal says his arrest has cost him money and caused him trouble, even though formal charges were never filed by the State Attorney's Office.
"Every time I go to the States, I have to go in a room and explain what happened," Visbal said.
He is planning another visit in September and has already resigned himself to the questioning he expects to get once he arrives at the airport.
But for him, the worst part of the ordeal was the fear of being sent to prison for 15 years.
"They made a big mistake," he said. "I think it's unfair to treat me that way. It can happen to anyone."
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