The Cost Of Unjust Incarceration: An Arkansas Man’s Kratom Story

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When police officers arrest someone for a banned substance it makes sense that law enforcement would test said substance before holding someone in custody. 

At least one would think. 

In the case of Scott Cook, the exact opposite happened. 

Cook’s saga started with an arrest in April of 2022 for possession of kratom, a dietary supplement that is illegal in Arkansas. Due to an inability to make bail, Cook remained in custody. That’s where he stayed for eight months until the results from the lab came back, confirming that Cook had moringa, a legal dietary supplement in every state. With that information, charges against Cook were dropped

Although the case was closed, Cook is still in the process of picking up the pieces. In a video posted by W. Whitfield Hyman, Cook’s lawyer, the two discussed the process and how Cook’s arrest disrupted his life. 

“I couldn’t bond out, I tried every bonding agent that was available (from) the jailers,” Cook said. “None of them would touch me.” 

The Cost of Incarceration

From there, Cook said he lost contact with his wife and child and had his car impounded upon the arrest. When he was released he found out the cost of eight months behind bars: Cook joked that his vehicle had become a “million dollar car” due to daily fees racked up in the impound lot. It wasn’t just about having a form of transportation, either. Cook said at the time of his arrest, all of his clothes, tools, and other worldly possessions were impounded at the same time. 

Cook was able to find a job since becoming a free man again in January of this year, yet he still pays the price for his incarceration as he tries to rebuild his life. 

“I’m living in a tent, in a hammock, rain, sleet or snow,” Cook said. “Blankets and that’s it except the clothes on my back…I brought everything down here because I was trying to start a life with my wife and kid” 

In seemingly every state where the ‘kratom question’ has been taken up by lawmakers, the usual refrain has been for those who oppose kratom to question the profit margin of the kratom industry. Cook’s case illustrates that it’s the wrong side that has been accused of having ulterior motives.

Local law enforcement has been a consistent opponent of laws regulating kratom, instead opting to favor a ban on kratom. In Arkansas, it’s clear to see why. A little less than a year before Cook’s arrest, another man was pulled over in Arkansas and arrested for kratom he had legally purchased across state lines. 

Marshall Price was jailed on charges of drug trafficking for a small amount of kratom. Seven months later, less than the time it took for the lab to return results in Cook’s case, Price died after sustaining injuries in custody, and his family is still looking for answers

For Cook, it’s clear that the kratom law was a tool used by law enforcement to target him. For his lawyer, the first step toward a solution is simple. 

“If we don’t know if it’s a drug or not, let’s wait until the crime lab results come back and say it’s a drug before we put a guy in jail for eight months and he loses everything,” Hyman said. 

Left Without Legal Recourse

Arkansas is one of six states that voted to ban kratom surrounding the first federal discussion over kratom. Due to that, it is scheduled in the state, meaning possession is a felony. Even though the state closed the case before it went to trial, the severity of the penalty allowed the state to send a bond high enough to keep Cook in prison and effectively strip him of his possessions. 

Since the state has a kratom ban on its books, Hyman said the police officers who filed the charges, as well as the process to detain Cook, is still covered under case law that protects law enforcement from litigation.

“If he were to sue over this, the police would have something called qualified immunity,” Hyman said. “There’s no case, that I’m aware of, where someone has been cited for having something that’s not a drug and they’ve been able to successfully sue over it in the 8th Circuit.” 

Cook still has a few legal options that he could pursue, including a request for restitution from the state agencies involved. At this point, Hyman isn’t sure what the next step will be.

“I can tell you right now that I don’t think they’re going to pay him a dime but maybe I’m wrong,” Hyman said. 

After spending eight months in jail for a substance that is available over the counter in all 50 states, Cook said he is worried that specific laws and less-than-honest legal bodies are finding gray areas to punish otherwise law-abiding citizens like himself. Although Cook didn’t speak directly to the kratom question, he said the experience of being arrested for something that wasn’t even illegal will stick with him for the foreseeable future. 

“I literally felt like I was abducted by the police,” he said. “I’ll get through this, I’m a tough person, but it’d be a lot nicer if the people in charge weren’t committing crimes against those who are innocent.” 

“This stuff shouldn’t be going on in any society.”

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