Drug test exonerates man charged with cocaine possession

Published 8:25 am Thursday, December 29, 2011

AUSTIN — Prosecutors have dismissed the case against an Austin man wrongly accused of possessing 30 grams of cocaine.

Mower County Attorney Kristen Nelsen dismissed the case against 21-year-old LeVerne Michael Altenburg Jr. on Dec. 20 after tests showed that what officers thought was cocaine was not a controlled substance. Altenburg was released from jail after the case was dismissed.

“Upon further review, the below-signed attorney has determined that the state cannot prove the allegations beyond a reasonable doubt,” states a court document signed by Nelsen on Dec. 20.

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The original complaint said that police went to Altenburg’s house on Nov. 1 looking for stolen property. During the search, officers found in a safe what appeared to be synthetic marijuana and 30 grams of cocaine. A preliminary field test indicated the substance was cocaine, but Altenburg told police it was epsom salt and he bought it at GNC.

Police Capt. Dave McKichan said preliminary field tests are typically accurate, but all unknown substances are sent to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension for thorough testing before a defendant goes on trial or is sentenced. Nelsen said she dismissed Altenburg’s case within minutes of receiving the news from the BCA that the substance was not cocaine or any other controlled substance.

Altenburg said the substance was epsom salt he had on hand because of a dog bite.

“I got bit by a dog about a half a month before they arrested me,” he said. The salt “was for my bath water.”

Altenburg was keeping the salt in the safe because he didn’t want anyone to think it was drugs, he said.

“I have friends, who if they stop by and see that in my bathroom, what are they going to think?” Altenburg said. “I locked it up because they could take it … thinking it was something they could get high off.”

The substance was in a Ziploc bag in the safe because Altenburg’s dog had chewed open the original container, he said.

Altenburg pleaded guilty on Thursday in another case in which he’s charged with receiving stolen property. He is on probation for a 2010 drug conviction, as well.