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Kansas Family Home Raided Because Cops Thought Tomato Plants Were Pot

The War on Drugs is often criticized for being a waste of money, with the government devoting substantial resources and not doing much in return. And when those resources are used to target perfectly innocent individuals, it looks even worse.

On April 20th, 2012 (4/20, ironically), police officers in Leawood, Kansas raided the home of Bob and Addie Harte. At 7:30 a.m., the cops entered the house armed with assault rifles and rounded up the family. After sitting them on a couch and reading them their Miranda Rights, the officers began a thorough search of the house. After two hours of searching, the Hartes were shown a copy of a search warrant. The cops were looking for marijuana.

All they found were tomatoes in the Hartes' hydroponic garden.

The raid on the Hartes' house was part of a marijuana sting that began all the way in 1997. Missouri State Highway Patrol began monitoring hydroponic garden stores, since many of the products sold in these establishments can be used to grow marijuana. In 2011, several law enforcement agencies used the monitoring of hydroponic stores to make a series of arrests on illegal pot growers. The success of those stings led to another operation in 2012, which included the raid on the Hartes' home. 

The targeting of the Hartes in the sting operation is particularly confusing. Not only were Bob and Addie law-abiding citizens with no criminal histories, they had both previously worked for the CIA.

The police would tell the family that they had been targeted because "seed and stems" from marijuana had been found on the couple's property, prompting the search. The Hartes were completely confused by this, as they didn't smoke marijuana and had no idea how that was found on their property. Well, that turned out to be a lie. The police had actually gone through the Hartes' trash and found a "wet glob of vegetation," which turned out to be from Addie's tea.

But while that may seem like a harmless, if dumb, mistake, another piece of evidence used for the search was not as innocent. According to the search warrant, the officers had gone through the Hartes' trash multiple times before. They found plant material two times, and determined it was not drug-related. However, on later visits, the police tested the plants with a field marijuana kit and claimed the results were positive. However, the officers did not take pictures of the results and there's no actual physical evidence that those tests came back positive.

In November 2013, the Hartes filed a lawsuit against the police officers claiming their fourth and 14th amendment rights had been violated by the search. In 2015, a judge threw out the case citing "qualified immunity," a law that protects police officers from liability if they're following the law in the course of duty.

However, earlier this week a federal court overruled the lower judge and sent the case back to district court to continue. They pushed back on the qualified immunity claim, saying that police officers shouldn't be protected from this kind of behavior.

"The defendants in this case caused an unjustified governmental intrusion into the Hartes' home based on nothing more than junk science, an incompetent investigation, and a publicity stunt. The Fourth Amendment does not condone this conduct, and neither can I," wrote one of the judges.

So now the Hartes will go back to court to force the police officers to take responsibility for their mistakes. Or, maybe that should be, "mistakes."


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