Source: Chicago Tribune
I've included bits and pieces so you get the idea of the story, and the 'bold' accent is mine. The whole story is available at the source listed. This story makes me angry, frustrated and even somewhat scared. If ex-CIA, upstanding, good parents with a couple great kids can be put through this hell, anyone can.
'We'll never be the same': A hydroponic tomato garden led police to raid Kansas family's home
|The hydroponic tomato garden that led to a 2012 police raid. |
Wearing only gym shorts, the stocky 51-year-old left his wife in bed and shuffled downstairs. The solid front door had a small window carved at eye-level, one-foot-square. As he approached, Harte saw the porch was clogged with police officers. Immediately after opening the door, seven members of the Johnson County Sheriff's Office (JCSO) pressed into the house brandishing guns and a battering ram. Bob found himself flat on floor, hands behind his head, his eyes locked on the boots of the cop standing over him with an AR-15 assault rifle. Are there kids? the officers were yelling. Where are the kids?
"And I'm laying there staring at this guy's boots fearing for my kids' lives, trying to tell them where my children are," Harte recalled later in a deposition on July 9, 2015. "They are sending these guys with their guns drawn running upstairs to bust into my children's house, bedroom, wake them out of bed."
Harte's wife, Addie, bolted downstairs with the children. The Hartes' son put his hands up when he saw the guns. The family of four were eventually placed on a couch as police continued to search the property. The officers would only say they were searching for narcotics.
Addie had a thought: It's because of the hydroponic garden, she told her husband, they are looking for pot. No way, Harte said, correctly reasoning marijuana wasn't a narcotic. And all this for pot?
"It's because of the hydroponic garden, she told her husband,
they are looking for pot. No way, Harte said,
correctly reasoning marijuana wasn't a narcotic.
And all this for pot?"
But after two hours of fruitless search, the officers showed the Hartes a warrant. Indeed, the hunt was for marijuana. Addie and Bob were flabbergasted — all this for pot?
"You take the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, all the rights you expect to have - when they come in like that, the only right you have is not to get shot if you cooperate," Harte told The Washington Post this week. "They open that door, your life is on the line."
The April 20, 2012, raid would not furnish JCSO with the desired arrests and publicity (a news conference had already been planned for the afternoon.) But it would cause considerable embarrassment. Not only were the Hartes upstanding citizens with clean records, they were also both former Central Intelligence Agency officers. And they were not weed growers. Rather, the quick-trigger suspicion of law enforcement had snagged on — it would later turn out — tea leaves and a struggling tomato plant.
"Not only were the Hartes upstanding citizens with clean records,
they were also both former Central Intelligence Agency officers.
And they were not weed growers. Rather, the quick-trigger suspicion
of law enforcement had snagged on
— it would later turn out — tea leaves
and a struggling tomato plant."
The Hartes would eventually file a federal lawsuit against the county, city, and officers involved. And although a federal judge later threw out their claim, this week a three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit ruled that the family could move forward in court. The decision has larger implications for Fourth Amendment litigation and legislation targeting badly behaving police officers.
The scorching judicial pronouncement blasted authorities for laziness and possible fabrication, the kind of overzealous police work that's become a sometimes deadly facet of the drug war. And despite the sustained effort of the Obama Administration to power down the law enforcement's more quixotic battles with illicit substances, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has promised to reprioritize marijuana investigations. The Hartes case is a textbook reminder how that can be dangerous.
"Our family will never be the same," Addie told The Post. "If this can happen to us, everybody in the country needs to be afraid," Bob added.
The events leading to the raid began a year earlier, according to court documents. Starting in 1997, Sgt. James Wingo of the Missouri State Highway Patrol started pulling surveillance shifts in the parking lots of hydroponic garden stores around the state. The project's logic, as Wingo explained in a 2011 letter to other law enforcement agencies, was that the stores "sell items that are consistently found in indoor marijuana growing operations." As customers came and went, Wingo would note their license plate information and enter names into a database.
Around 2011, he'd come up with the idea of trying to raise tomatoes, golden melons, butternut squash, and other vegetates in a hydroponic garden in the family's basement as an educational project with his son. The set-up was small, just two parallel tubes of PVC piping with plastic cups of seeds and dirt under the lamps. And to gather supplies for the project, on August 9, 2011, Bob and his two children piled out of the family's Kia minivan in the parking lot of a gardening store called Green Circle in downtown Kansas City.
Wingo was watching from a parked car and noted the license plate.
Eight months later, as law enforcement continued to search every inch of their house for drugs, Addie sat on the couch, trying to explain to her son what was going on. "I had nothing, how do you explain that? They know I can't protect them then," she told The Post this week. "Sitting in your home, having your Miranda rights read to you, its absolutely surreal."
The raid turned up no marijuana. Before leaving the Harte house, police would only say the family had been targeted and surveilled because marijuana "seeds and stems" had been found on the property. The cops also suggested the couple's son was smoking pot, and told the Hartes to take him to a pediatrician for a drug test.
In the year following the raid, Addie and Bob both struggled to come up with an explanation for why marijuana seeds and stems would have been at their home. The couple say they've never smoked pot themselves. There just wasn't a sensible reason for the raid. The unanswered question began to eat particularly at Bob; previously calm and carefree, he stopped sleeping, and found himself mentally tripping down a rabbit hole of possible scenarios. Who were they dealing with here? he wondered. Was this a situation of corrupt cops or a set up? Or did a neighborhood kid drop some marijuana on their lawn walking by?
Addie, who's brother was a former New York City police officer, watched as her children became frightened just driving by the police station or seeing a patrol car on the road.
Finally, nearly a year after the incident, JCSO provided some documentation to the couple. Right away, they understood what had happened. On the official paperwork before the raid, investigators noted they had pulled the couple's trash before the incident as part of the investigation. But the reports didn't refer to "stems and seeds." They referred to a "wet glob vegetation."
"As soon as we heard that, we knew it was my tea," Addie told The Post, referring to a loose-leaf Teavanabrand tea she drank regularly. "But it took over a year and $2,500 for a lawyer to figure out what had happened."
"As soon as we heard that, we knew it was my tea,"
Addie told The Post, referring to a loose-leaf
Teavana brand tea she drank regularly.
"But it took over a year and $2,500 for a lawyer
to figure out what had happened."
In fact, the pre-raid investigation was actually even more suspect.
Court records later indicated that after identifying the Hartes from Wingo's tip, JCSO conducted three trash pulls on the house. On the first, April 3, the officers noted wet "plant material" but determined it was "innocent." At the next two trash pulls — April 10 and April 17 — the same material was found again, but this time JCSO officers tested the material with a marijuana field test. The results came back positive, but the offices didn't take photos of the results or send the material to a laboratory for confirmation. Instead, based on the Wingo tip and the two positive drug tests, JCSO applied for and was granted a search warrant for the April 20 raid.
In November 2013, the couple filed a federal lawsuit against the county's board of commissioners, as well as the officers involved. The family claimed the raid was an unlawful search-and-seizure in violation of the 14th and Fourth Amendments. The suit, which asked for $7 million in damages, also argued law enforcement violated state laws including trespassing and abuse of power.
In December, 2015, U.S. District Judge John W. Lungstrum threw out the family's case citing qualified immunity, the legal doctrine that shields officers from liability for otherwise lawful acts in the course of their duty. The Hartes appealed.
Read the whole story here.
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