April 5, 2013
How insanely out-of-control has the war on drugs become? Apparently now, if all you do is buy equipment to grow plants and vegetables indoors is reason enough to suspect you of conducting illegal drug activity.
Case in point: State police and sheriff’s deputies in Kansas raided the home of Adlynn and Robert Harte, two former CIA employees, in a fruitless search for marijuana as part of a two-state drug sweep in conjunction with Missouri police agencies – all because they had bought supplies to grow vegetables inside their home.
As a result of getting improperly swept up in the operation, the couple has filed suit “to get more information about why sheriff’s deputies searched their home in the upscale Kansas City suburb of Leawood last April 20 as part of Operation Constant Gardener – a sweep conducted by agencies in Kansas and Missouri that netted marijuana plants, processed marijuana, guns, growing paraphernalia and cash from several other locations,” The Associated Press reported.
That date has long been used by marijuana users as a way to celebrate the drug, which remains illegal on the federal level though voters in two states – Colorado and Washington – legalized it for recreational use last November.
‘Public has an interest in knowing’
The Harte’s attorney, Cheryl Pilate, says, however, that she believes her clients’ 1,865-square-foot split level home was targeted because they recently purchased hydroponic gear to grow small numbers of tomatoes and squash in their basement.
“With little or no other evidence of any illegal activity, law enforcement officers make the assumption that shoppers at the store are potential marijuana growers, even though the stores are most commonly frequented by backyard gardeners who grow organically or start seedlings indoors,” says the suit.
The suit was filed under the Kansas Open Records Act, but only after authorities in Johnson County and Leawood denied their initial requests to see records justifying the search of their particular home. Leawood officials went so far as to say they had no such relevant records, but the Hartes’ say that answer isn’t good enough. Per AP:
The Hartes say the public has an interest in knowing whether the sheriff’s department’s participation in the raids was “based on a well-founded belief of marijuana use and cultivation at the targeted addresses, or whether the raids primarily served a publicity purpose.”
Said Adlynn Harte: “If this can happen to us and we are educated and have reasonable resources, how does somebody who maybe hasn’t led a perfect life supposed to be free in this country?”
A great point. Unfortunately, few in power have a good answer to it.
‘It was like Zero Dark Thirty’
In the suit, the couple said their two children, a 7-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son, were “shocked and frightened” by assault weapon-armed cops wearing bulletproof vests began pounding on the front door of their home around 7:30 a.m. nearly a year ago.
“It was just like on the cops TV shows,” Robert Harte told AP. “It was like ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ ready to storm the compound.”
The court filing says that, during the drug sweep, the Hartes were told cops had been watching them for months, but that the couple knows “of no basis for conducting such surveillance nor do they believe such surveillance would have produced any facts supporting the issuance of a search warrant.”
The couple said they built the hydroponic garden with their son a few years ago, adding that they chose not to use the powerful light bulbs that marijuana growers typically use, meaning the family’s electricity bills did not change dramatically. Authorities sometimes use changes in a residence’s utility bills as an indicator of illicit activity, AP reported.
When cops searched their home, the Hartes’ had only six plants growing in their basement – three tomato, one melon and two butternut squash plants.
Case could set a precedent on the federal level
In addition to being wrong about the Hartes, the lawsuit says deputies “made rude comments” to them and even went so far as to imply that their son was a dope smoker.
Pilate said the search was ridiculous in the first place because her clients don’t use illegal drugs and because no charges were ever filed:
The lawsuit noted Adlynn Harte, who works for a financial planning firm, and Robert Harte, who cares for the couple’s children, each were required to pass rigorous background checks for their previous jobs working for the CIA in Washington, D.C. Pilate said she couldn’t provide any other details about their CIA employment.
“You can’t go into people’s homes and conduct searches without probable cause,” Pilate said, adding that a successful lawsuit could serve as a basis for a future federal civil rights suit.