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Busted for Intent to Garden

December 29, 2015

Radley Balko writes about the surveillance state again.

Paul sends the link along with the comment, "This has to stop."

Federal judge: Drinking tea, shopping at a gardening store is probable cause for a SWAT raid on your home

In April 2012, a Kansas SWAT team raided the home of Robert and Addie Harte, their 7-year-old daughter and their 13-year-old son. The couple, both former CIA analysts, awoke to pounding at the door. When Robert Harte answered, SWAT agents flooded the home. He was told to lie on the floor. When Addie Harte came out to see what was going on, she saw her husband on his stomach as SWAT cop stood over him with a gun. The family was then held at gunpoint for more than two hours while the police searched their home. Though they claimed to be looking for evidence of a major marijuana growing operation, they later stated that they knew within about 20 minutes that they wouldn’t find any such operation. So they switched to search for evidence of “personal use.” They found no evidence of any criminal activity.

The investigation leading to the raid began at least seven months earlier, when Robert Harte and his son went to a gardening store to purchase supplies to grow hydroponic tomatoes for a school project. A state trooper had been positioned in the store parking lot to collect the license plate numbers of customers, compile them into a spreadsheet, then send the spreadsheets to local sheriff’s departments for further investigation. Yes, merely shopping at a gardening store could make you the target of a criminal drug investigation.

More than half a year later, the Johnson County Sheriff’s Department began investigating the Hartes as part of “Operation Constant Gardener,” basically a PR stunt in which the agency conducts multiple pot raids on April 20, or “4/20.” On several occasions, the Sheriff’s Department sent deputies out to sort through the family’s garbage. (The police don’t need a warrant to sift through your trash.) The deputies repeatedly found “saturated plant material” that they thought could possibly be marijuana. On two occasions, a drug testing field kit inexplicably indicated the presence of THC, the active drug in marijuana. It was on the basis of those tests and Harte’s patronage of a gardening store that the police obtained the warrant for the SWAT raid.

But, of course, they found nothing. Lab tests would later reveal that the “saturated plant material” was actually loose-leaf tea, which Addie Harte drinks on a regular basis. […]

DEA delenda est.


Update:

Orin Kerr (at the Volokh Conspiracy blog) writes a follow-up to Balko’s column. No, a federal judge did not rule that drinking tea and shopping at a gardening store amounts to probable cause.

Since I took Balko’s headline as hyperbole and since his column never mentioned such a ruling explicitly, so this isn’t too much of a surprise. But Mr. Kerr is keeping the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed for us.

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