A former Martin County, Florida sheriff’s deputy who used powdered detergent to arrest motorists on trumped up drug charges has been taken into custody. Steven Douglas O’Leary, 29, was arrested on the night of July 29 and charged with 17 counts of official misconduct, 12 counts of false imprisonment, nine counts of false statements, eight counts of tampering with evidence and one count of petit theft and battery.
O’Leary was apprehended several hundred miles away in Leon County, Florida. It is unknown why he was in Leon County or why the arrest was made there. The U.S. Marshalls Task Force transported him back to Martin County on July 30. Bond was set at $1 million.
O’Leary remained silent when he appeared before the judge, who told him he’ll have to wear an ankle monitor if he is able to post bond.
Here’s what you need to know about Steven O’Leary and his bogus drug arrests.
1. O’Leary Was Fired after the State Attorney’s Office Found Problems with his Cases
O’Leary was employed by the Martin County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) for 11 months beginning in February 2018. During his tenure he made 86 drug-related arrests.
O’Leary was fired by the MCSO on January 15, 2019, after the State Attorney’s office found discrepancies with the road patrol officer’s cases. A six-month internal investigation confirmed there was no evidence of illegal drugs in at least 14 of his arrests.
One hundred and twenty substances submitted by O’Leary as heroin, crack cocaine and methamphetamine had to be re-tested. The “crack cocaine” O’Leary used as evidence for two arrests was actually a white powdery substance he’d collected from a broken religious figurine he kept in the trunk of his patrol car.
In addition to the figurine, detectives searching O’Leary’s vehicle also found a vape pen he’d seized as evidence, Advil wrapped in tinfoil, a list of his previous arrests and official paperwork including six witness statements that hed never submitted. O’Leary also kept a notebook in his car of known Martin County drug dealing spots referred to as “dope holes.” He regularly patrolled those areas looking for motorists to pull over.
After his termination, eleven falsely accused victims were immediately freed from jail: Maxwell Tatum, Nicole McCrory, Michael Lauderdale, Melissa Morales, Jabari Schweitzer, Yener Lopez, Gomez Rodriguez, Matthew Crull, Jason Farrenkoph, Ashley Michalski and Marialys Perez. Tatum had been sent to state prison but was released.
In February 2019, local businessman James Crocker began putting up signs around Martin County demanding O’Leary’s arrest. The signs read: “Sheriff Snyder: Arrest O’Leary Now or Resign.”
Crocker is a critic of the MCSO. He won a civil lawsuit in 2018 after a 2012 incident in which Martin County Sheriff’s Deputy Steven Beatty arrested Crocker and confiscated his phone without a warrant or consent when Crocker took photos of a car accident. Photographing accidents and crime scenes in a public place is legal.
Wondering why O’Leary wasn’t immediately arrested, Crocker commented, “I don’t know what the sheriff is waiting on.” Snyder explained that the MCSO was extending due process to O’Leary “as they would with anybody else.”
2. Several Victims Were Jailed for Possessing Laundry Detergent O’Leary Claimed Was Heroin
Mechanical Engineer Bradley Martin was pulled over by O’Leary in October 2018 and accused of having over five ounces of heroin in his vehicle. When Martin was stopped by O’Leary for an expired tag, O’Leary claimed he smelled marijuana and searched the car. The deputy discovered a bag labeled “laundry detergent” that he said tested positive for heroin.
Martin was arrested on charges of planning to sell, manufacture, deliver or traffic heroin and bail was set at $500,000. Martin spent four months in jail.
Matthew Crull spent 41 days in jail after O’Leary also arrested him for heroin possession. “I had 92 grams of laundry detergent in my (car) door and that’s what I was falsely charged for trafficking of heroin,” he told CBS 12.
“[O’Leary] showed me a picture of the field test kit that [O’Leary] supposedly conducted, on his phone. He never actually showed me the real test kit,” Crull recalled.
Crull, who admitted to previous minor run-ins with the law, recalled what happened when he went before the judge. “It made the situation very real. He raised my bond from $100k to half a million dollars, so there was really no way I was getting out of jail,” he said.
David Knapp, 21, spent two days in jail after O’Leary claimed the drywall dust in his car was cocaine. “There was no cocaine in the car. And the straw that he called drug paraphernalia was… in a Wendy’s cup,” Knapp told WPTV. Knapp ended up on probation, paid more than $6,000 to fight the charges and lost time at work. “I’m happy he got arrested,” he said.
3. Victims Are Filing a Civil Lawsuit Against O’Leary & the Sheriff’s Office
Attorney Lance Richard has notified MCSO of his clients’ intent to sue. Richard says he currently represents 20 of O’Leary’s victims who are seeking damages for false arrest, false imprisonment, negligent hiring, negligent supervision and infliction of emotional distress.
Richard said that even though all of the charges have been dropped against his clients, most lost their jobs, had problems with their families and friends, were forced to undergo regular drug screenings, attend drug treatment programs and pay hefty court and attorney’s fees.
Richard revealed that some of his clients were left traumatized by their arrest. “I’ve spoken with them all. They are extremely relieved that he’s been arrested and he’s in jail. And they feel that this is the first step to regaining some sense of justice in these events that have happened.”
4. The Sheriff’s Office Says It’s Working to Make O’Leary’s Victims “As Whole as Possible”
“We are trying to undo whatever harm has been done,” Martin County Sheriff William Snyder said at a January 28 press conference.
According to Snyder, MCSO was expunging victim’s records, paying the fees associated with their arrests, and “doing everything we can to make these people as whole as possible.” Snyder admitted his office can’t completely undo everything that was done “but we’ll do everything we can do to make amends.”
5. O’Leary Worked for Two Other Police Departments & Was a Former Church Pastor
Before working in Martin County, O’Leary had been a police officer for the city of Palm Beach from May 2017 to January 2018 and for the Marion County Sheriff’s Office in central Florida from 2016 to 2017.
During his time in Palm Beach, O’Leary made twenty drug-related arrests but there is no evidence of any misconduct. The number of drug arrests made in Marion County is unknown but the county said they are reviewing O’Leary’s drug cases.
O’Leary was also served as a pastor for the City Light Church in Ocala, Florida and a worship leader at the First United Methodist Church in Stuart.