FEMALE SERGEANT SNARLED IN PISS-TESTING CATCH-22
POT ASSAY DISCRIMINATES AGAINST WOMEN
B U H, N W O R K
AN EX-STAFF SERGEANT AT PLATTSburgh Air Force Base, Kim Bartoletta, was found "not guilty" last March of the "use" of marijuana, despite a battery of urinalysis tests which had claimed there were THC traces in a urine sample she had furnished during a squadron piss sweep at Plattsburgh last fall. The discharge board that cleared ex-Sergeant Bartoletta stipulated that she should be returned to her rank and duties on the base and be recompensated for the $400 fine which had been levied against her. But Bartoletta is currently being told that it may be "six or eight months" before anything's done in the matter, and that, in fact, she may be found "guilty" after all.
Sergeant Bartoletta was about the last person at Plattsburgh AFB who might be expected to turn up “positive” on a pot urinalysis, because she was in charge of the ordeny room through which all the 180 sam ples from her squadron passed last October. If she'd had the least cause to worry that her sample might come out positive, she could easily have switched or salted it: "But since I hadn't smoked marijuana in seven and a half years, since I was seventeen, I didn't even think about it," she says.
Nevertheless, of all 180 samples in her squadron, Bartoletta's came back positive from the urinalysis laboratory at Brooks Air Force Base in Texas. Bartoletta was faced with a choice: either accept a "nonjudicial punishment" of reduction in rank to non com status and a $400 fine, or plead "not guilty" at a formal court-martial. If the court-martial board had found her guilty, though, Bartoletta could have been thrown immediately in jail after conviction, with no chance of appeal bond. "I have two chil dren," Bartoletta points out, in explaining why she accepted the fine and bust in rank.
However, in January this year, Bartoletta filed for a "discharge board" hearing, at which-if she were found guilty of pot useshe would merely be discharged from the air force, not jailed. As her expert defense witness, at this hearing, she flew in from Los Angeles Dr. Stanley Gross, a recog nized expert in drug-analysis procedures. Gross, in fact, has the patent on a saliva test for THC which is shortly to go into commer cial production.
The Brooks AFB technicians, Gross noted, had screened Bartoletta's urine sample with a commercial radio-immune assay (RIA) called the Roche Abusescreen THC. Gross, a pioneer of RIA techniques, said he'd per sonally tested out the Abusescreen proce dure on an old-people's home in California, and that 6 out of 10 of the elderly patients had shown positive for THC. Testimony was also presented showing the appalling procedures in the Brooks lab, where trainee lab techs cooked tacos in the drying ovens for lunch, and where the commander in charge of the lab retired himself last year on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
Most of all, Gross pointed out, it's "nearly impossible" to obtain a "trustworthy" urine sample for testing from a woman, because of fundamental anatomical differences between women and men. In women, after urine emerges from the urethra, it travels a minute distance through part of the vaginal canal where it's inevitably "contaminated" with miscellaneous microscopic particlesbacteria, yeast, perspiration, perhaps se men or any other number of unknown sub stances-which could easily "cross-react" with the chemicals used in the testing machines, and ring up a "false positive" for THC. And there is absolutely no way, Gross pointed out, of minimizing this cross-reac tion potential with women.
In addition to Dr. Gross, Bartoletta had three of the top lieutenant colonels at Platts burgh testify to her character. Her work at the base, they all agreed, had been uniform ly classed as "outstandingly competent" over the nine years she's been in the service, and she is simply not the sort of person who smokes pot. The only person to give testi mony against her, in fact, was the lieutenant in charge of her orderly section-her imme diate superior-who was required by law to testify that yes, these machines at Brooks AFB had registered THC positives on her urine; but this lieutenant aiso volunteered the information for the record that her work had always been outstanding.
"Since Ihcidn't smoked marijuana in seven and a halfyears, since Iwas seventeen, Ididn't even think about it."
In mid-March this year, the Plattsburgh AFB discharge board found ex-Sergeant Bartoletta not guilty, therefore, and stipu lated that her rank and the fine and all back pay be restored to her. However, this puts all the armed services in a very sticky wicket. Tens of thousands of personnel since 1981 have been disciplined on the basis of no more "evidence" against them than routine lab tests for THC. Scores of personnel are currently challenging these tests in military and civil courts, demanding reinstatement of rank and reimbursement for penalties.
According to Bartoletta's air-force defense attorney, Capt. John Speer at Plattsburgh, it is within the power of the secretary of the air force to overturn the discharge board's find ings and uphold her Article 15 penalties. In NewYork, veteran civilian defense attorney Tod Ensign of Citizen Soldier-a law firm specializing in military defense work-af firms that this is true, but would be highly ir regular and nearly unprecedented. "If that happens," says Ensign, "that means there's something very special about this particular