Ron Gaines, 37, relives the afternoon of October 6, 2017, every time he drives by Johnson's BBQ on North W Street in Pensacola and sees the parking lot where an Escambia County sheriff's deputy pulled him over. (1)
"I was arrested at 3:30 that afternoon," said Gaines, a transition specialist with Project Connect, a program contracted by the Department of Juvenile Justice to provide transitional services for North Florida youth on probation, post-commitment probation, conditional release, or direct discharge who are returning to their home communities.
"I lost my job the same day," said Gaines, who had just left a client's home when he was stopped for having an obscured tag, or in other words, a Cincinnati Bengals license plate frame.
"The irony was that the deputy who had run the tag said he was able to see the numbers," said H. E. "Ed" Ellis, Jr., a Pensacola attorney who first met Gaines October 17 at a Justice on the Block pro bono legal services clinic organized through the Escambia Project, a joint initiative of The Florida Bar Foundation, Legal Services of North Florida, and Pensacola-based nonprofit Pathways for Change.
The deputy's arrest report stated that upon approaching the car, he immediately detected the odor of marijuana.
"All that, I believe, is just to have a reason to detain somebody," Ellis said. "There never was, in any way, a smell of marijuana emanating from that vehicle. There was no marijuana found. There were no drugs found."
What deputies did find, after searching the entire vehicle, was Gaines' gym bag in the back seat, which contained a plum, a protein bar, a fiber bar, a shaker bottle for mixing pre-workout whey protein drinks, and a clear plastic bag of an off-white powder. Printed on the drawstring gym bag was: "Escambia County Sheriff's Office" over an image of a sheriff's office badge, and underneath the badge: "Join the Fight Against Drugs."
As shown in the Escambia County sheriff's deputy's dashcam video, while handcuffed in the back seat of the cruiser, Gaines told deputies the powder was protein. The deputies--and there were several on the scene by the time the incident was over--field tested the powder, and the test came back with a positive reading for the presence of cocaine. They charged Gaines with possession of cocaine, as well as intent to distribute, a second-degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in state prison. (2)
When Ellis met Gaines at the Justice on the Block event, Gaines had brought...