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Maxwell Tatum

Other Florida Exonerations
On June 9, 2018, Deputy Steven O’Leary of the Martin County Sheriff’s Office on Florida’s east coast arrested 26-year-old Maxwell Tatum on drug charges.

O’Leary wrote in his report that he was on patrol when he received a report of a truck illegally parked. He ran the plates and learned Tatum’s name. He wrote that he peered inside the vehicle and could see an orange pill and a baggie full of syringes.

A short while later, O’Leary said, Tatum returned to his truck and told O’Leary that he had been fishing nearby. O’Leary said he told Tatum that he could see the syringes. He wrote that Tatum retrieved his identification from the truck and then locked the truck’s doors.

O’Leary wrote that he read Tatum his Miranda warnings. Tatum said that the clothing and boots in the truck were his, but that everything else must “be planted.” O’Leary said he asked him to clarify, and Tatum said “the drugs.” Tatum then asked for an attorney.

Later, O’Leary searched the vehicle. He said that he found two lip balm containers that held a white powder. O’Leary said he field tested the substance, and it tested positive for methamphetamine. O’Leary said he also found a vaping device in the cup holder that smelled like marijuana. He said the liquid in the device tested positive for marijuana.

Tatum was charged with two counts of drug possession and one count of misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia. The orange pill was sent for testing, but available records don’t report the results.

On October 4, 2018, Tatum pled guilty to the three counts in Martin County Circuit Court and received a sentence of 18 months in prison.

On January 10, 2019, the Martin County Sheriff’s Office began investigating O’Leary after the Indian River Crime Lab reported that three separate items he submitted tested negative for drugs. The next day, the office tested 10 other pieces of evidence submitted by O’Leary. Only one of the substances tested positive. Also on January 11, 2019, sheriff’s investigators questioned O’Leary about his field methods. O’Leary said he hadn’t done anything wrong, that he just followed procedures after the field tests came back positive.

Investigators later searched patrol cars driven by O’Leary. Among the items found was a statue made of gypsum. An analysis by the crime lab reported that substances O’Leary submitted for drug testing in three cases could not be distinguished from the gypsum.

On January 15, 2019, Tatum’s attorney filed a motion to vacate his conviction. A judge granted the motion that day, and the state then dismissed the charges, releasing Tatum from prison.

Also on January 15, O’Leary was fired from the sheriff’s office. Prosecutors dismissed charges against 10 people arrested by O’Leary who were awaiting trial on alleged drug crimes. Two other people who were convicted of drug charges based on O’Leary’s arrest had their charges dismissed.

On July 26, 2019, O’Leary was charged with 18 counts of official misconduct, nine counts of making false statements, eight counts of tampering with evidence, 13 counts of false imprisonment, one count of battery, and one count of theft.

He pled guilty to the charges on September 30, 2021 and was later sentenced to 13 years in prison. The sheriff’s office said that during O’Leary’s 11 months as a deputy, he made 89 drug-related arrests, 26 of which were thrown out either because O’Leary falsified evidence or the substance in question turned out not to be illegal, including headache medicine, detergent, and mints.

On August 10, 2022, Tatum filed a civil-rights lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida against O’Leary and Sheriff William Snyder, seeking compensation for his wrongful conviction.

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 7/17/2023
Last Updated: 7/17/2023
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:Misdemeanor
Reported Crime Date:2018
Sentence:18 months
Age at the date of reported crime:26
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No