Military Controller's Trial A Lesson In Tea Totaling

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Two days after the July 4 weekend, an air traffic controller at Mayport Naval Station, Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Sean Lee, was given a drug test that he failed, but his character and explanation saved his career. During the trial, Lee said that he was incredulous upon hearing the news that he'd failed the test. "That's not possible," he said, "that's impossible." Lee said during trial that he was a big tea drinker and had been contacted just days before hearing about his failed drug test by fellow petty officer second class Javier Trevino who'd already learned that he'd failed his own. The key connection between the two men was the tea they'd enjoyed tea together, supplied by Trevino, prior to the drug test. The tea is known as mate de coca and is made with the leaves of the coca plant ... the one from which cocaine is made. It can be bought in a "decocainized" U.S. legal form (though it does not appear that was the version the men drank) but even that product contains a minute quantity of the drug. Prosecutors argued that Lee should have known what he was drinking, but when asked at trial by his own attorney if he knew the ingredients of the green tea he usually drank, Lee reportedly responded, "uh ... tea?" Lee was acquitted, Tuesday.

Lee's proclaimed ignorance of the tea's ingredients was not his only defense. Lee's pregnant wife had also tried some of the tea and that fact, combined with positive testimony in which superior officers described Lee as the best petty officer second class in his unit and possible officer material appears to have been enough to sway the trial's outcome. Lee said he had been considering leaving the military, but said the court experience renewed his faith in the system and the Navy and he may now consider his chances of becoming an officer.