Sunday, March 31, 2013

Futile pot raid follows indoor gardening, spurs lawsuit - KansasCity ...

A Leawood couple says heavily armed Johnson County deputies barged into their home last year, turning it upside down and detaining them and their children for more than two hours in a fruitless search for marijuana.

?This is how we were awakened: banging, pounding, screaming,? the mother, Adlynn Harte, said Friday. ?My husband opened the door right before the battering ram was set to take it out.?

The father allegedly was forced to lie shirtless on the foyer while a deputy with an assault rifle stood over him. The children, a 7-year-old girl and 13-year-old boy, reportedly came out of their bedrooms terrified, the teenager with his hands in the air.

And all because the couple, Robert and Adlynn Harte, bought indoor gardening equipment to grow a small number of tomato and squash plants in their basement, according to a lawsuit filed this week. The equipment was never used for marijuana, the couple says, and no one in the family has ever used illegal drugs.

Nearly a year after the SWAT-style raid, the Hartes still don?t know what evidence deputies used to persuade a judge to grant a warrant to search their home in the 10300 block of Wenonga Lane on April 20. Their requests for records that could provide such information have been denied by the sheriff?s office.

The lawsuit filed Thursday asks the court to order the release of the records. The information revealed could be used in a federal civil rights lawsuit.

?You can?t send out the SWAT team because people are trying to grow tomatoes in their basement,? Robert Harte told The Star.

Cheryl Pilate represents the couple, who met while both worked for the CIA and, according to Adlynn Harte, had top-secret security clearances.

?This was an egregious overreach, and there was no basis for the search,? Pilate said. ?These are highly educated and very patriotic people. They feel very strongly about it.?

Tom Erickson, a spokesman for the Johnson County Sheriff?s Office, declined to confirm the raid or discuss the allegations in the lawsuit Friday.

?We?ll let it play out in court,? he said.

The 7:30 a.m. raid was part of a highly publicized series of raids conducted on a day that is known to some as a marijuana holiday. After the raids, the sheriff?s office publicly declared the initiative a success, saying that they had confiscated 43 marijuana plants and one pound of marijuana.

But ?there was no acknowledgment in the Sheriff?s Department announcement that at least one of the raids had revealed no evidence of any kind of drug activity,? the lawsuit said.

Adlynn Harte said that after the deputies entered the home and asked for the children, she followed them downstairs.

?They made me and the children sit cross-legged against the wall in the foyer while my husband was face-down with his hands behind his head,? she said.

Once deputies searched the couch, the family was allowed to sit there. At first, they thought the authorities had simply come to the wrong house. But then the search went on and on ? every cupboard, every closet and into the attic, Robert Harte said.

Deputies told the Hartes that they had the couple under surveillance for months prior to the raid. But the Hartes ?know 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 lawsuit said.

Over the course of the raid, the deputies appeared to get frustrated that they weren?t finding anything, the suit said. The suit also said deputies ?made rude comments? and implied their son was using marijuana. After two hours, they brought in a drug-sniffing dog, but still found nothing.

Pilate said the search should have been finished in minutes instead of hours.

?They would have known in the first minute if they would have checked the equipment and seen the tomato plants,? she said. ?This was a hydroponic garden on the level of a school project, with just a few plants and inexpensive lights. It was nothing.?

Afterward, they gave the Hartes a receipt stating, ?No items taken.? The Hartes said they never received an apology.

?It was just egregious. It was outrageous,? Robert Harte said.

The incident was so embarrassing, Adlynn Harte said, that her husband went around the neighborhood, showing everyone the receipt.

But the Hartes want more information than a receipt. They believe the information they are seeking is in the public interest.

?This is about government accountability,? Pilate said. ?These folks have a right to know why they were targeted and why they were allegedly surveilled.?

The family has lived in their Leawood home since 2004. They moved to Kansas City in 1999. Adlynn Harte works at Waddell and Reed, a financial planning and management firm; Robert Harte works in the home, caring for the children, one of whom is home-schooled.

Pilate said she has learned through her own investigation that deputies routinely generate leads for their marijuana raids by watching stores that sell hydroponic equipment.

?With little or no 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,? the lawsuit said.

Robert Harte said that several times over a year and a half, family members had visited such a store in the River Market area, but bought only small amount of equipment. And they paid with a credit card.

Their gardening efforts weren?t going well, he said, so they sometimes consulted a clerk there for advice.

Adlynn Hart said the family has the ?utmost respect? for law enforcement, but wants to make sure that tax dollars are properly used and that other families ? with fewer resources than the Hartes have ? aren?t subjected to similar tactics.

?We feel llike it?s un-American and we need to do something about it,? Adlynn Harte said. ?I told my son last night that doing the right thing takes courage.?


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