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June 14, 2004 - The Chicago Sun-Times (IL)

Court Restores Job Lost To Drug Test

Charmaine Garrido Insists She's Never Used Cocaine

By Steve Patterson

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

So she was floored when told a random drug test came back positive and that she would lose her job as an investigator with the Cook County sheriff's department.

But last week, the Illinois Court of Appeals ruled Garrido should not have lost her job in 2001 because the positive test result probably didn't come from cocaine, but instead from the tea she'd been drinking.

Garrido, the wife of a Chicago narcotics officer, said she drank "a significant amount" of the coca-tinged tea, which she got from Peru, just before her drug test.

Though the sheriff's merit board didn't buy it -- and fired her -- the judges ruled the small traces of cocaine metabolites in Garrido's system were more likely to have come from tea than drugs.

Cook County sheriff's spokesman Bill Cunningham, who also heads employee drug testing, said they are reviewing the decision and considering an appeal.

But Garrido's attorney, Joseph V. Roddy, said the 39-year-old mother of two, who worked for the sheriff for 11 years, "had zero problems" until this incident.

Garrido said she and her husband got the tea in question -- mate de coca -- while in Peru, where they were adopting a baby.

She said a doctor gave the baby a watered-down version of the tea to settle her upset stomach, and she was assured then the tea had been "decocainized."

"If I knew it had cocaine in it, I never would have given it to my daughter," she said from her Chicago home Friday afternoon.

They brought boxes of it back home with them, she said, and court records indicate she took "a significant amount" of it while battling the flu in October 2000.

"Want some?" she joked on Friday. "I've still got two boxes here."

The tea apparently is similar to green Asian tea, and often is given to South American tourists who have trouble adjusting to higher elevations.

But it was also popular in the 1980s as a tea that helps ease drug cravings, as one Web site indicated "the average 'decocainized' tea bag contains 5 milligrams of cocaine."

But Garrido's husband, John, showed how easy it is to obtain, as he effortlessly brought boxes of it through customs, then purchased more bags over the Internet.

As of last week, users could purchase 120 tea bags for $45.

But sheriff's officers said a zero-tolerance policy for drugs in the workplace must apply to those who ingest drugs even without knowing it, as Garrido claims.

The court disagreed, even while recognizing some employees could now abuse drug test procedures.

"While it is true that an employee may lie about how an illegal drug got into his system, that does not mean it is unnecessary to address the question of what he knew or did not know or the circumstances surrounding the ingestion," the appellate judges wrote.

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