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Making tea and discarding the leaves can prompt a visit from your local SWAT team, isolation on your own sofa under armed guard and an exhaustive search of your personal belongings by law enforcement officers.

And it’s all perfectly legal, according to a federal judge in Kansas.

U.S. District Judge John W. Lungstrum recently threw out civil claims brought by a family after they endured such an experience.

The SWAT raid took place after a local highway patrol officer noticed the family shopping at a hydroponics store, where they bought equipment to raise tomatoes in their home. A subsequent search of their garbage turned up the tea leaves.

Critics say the experience of Robert and Addie Harte and their two minor children with Johnson County investigators shows how little evidence is required to trigger an early morning pounding on the door.

At the Washington Post, Radley Balko, who authored “Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces,” noted the family’s ordeal prompted state lawmakers to make changes in the requirements for police, and the Hartes still are considering whether to appeal Lungstrum’s ruling.

“The Hartes are … a white, financially sound couple who both happened to have worked for the CIA. Most people on the receiving end of these raids aren’t white, aren’t middle-class, didn’t once work for a federal intelligence agency and don’t have $25,000 to fund a fight in court. If even those advantages can’t help the Hartes win some accountability, you can imagine the long odds faced by the typical victim of a botched raid,” he wrote.

“Police State USA: How Orwell’s Nightmare Is Becoming Our Reality” chronicles how America has arrived at the point of being a de facto police state, and what led to an out-of-control government that increasingly ignores the Constitution. Order today!

A state trooper reported to the local sheriff that the family shopped at a gardening store. About seven months later, deputies searched the family’s garbage several times and found the wet tea leaves.

The officers used a faulty testing procedure on the leaves, which gave them a positive reading for THC, the ingredient in marijuana.

They took their information to a judge and got a search warrant. It was one of a number of pot raids on “4/20,” a date important for marijuana users.

When the family was exonerated, they filed a civil action, only to have Lungstrum toss out their case.

The judge rejected claims of trespass, assault, false arrest, abuse of process, intentional infliction of emotional distress and false light/invasion of privacy.

The judge explained it was Sgt. Jim Wingo of the state patrol who saw Robert Harte leaving the Green Circle hydroponics store in Kansas City in August 2011. Wingo reported it to the Johnson County sheriff’s office. In April 2012, Johnson County Deputies Mark Burns and Edward Blake searched the Hartes’ garbage.

The officers testified there was a saturated substance that was difficult to identify, but they claimed it tested positive for THC. The Post’s Balko, however, noted that the tests officers used on the tea leaves also produced positive THC readings for illegal drugs from sage, chocolate chip cookies, motor oil, spearmint, soap, tortilla dough, deodorant, billiard’s chalk, patchouli, flour, eucalyptus, breath mints, Jolly Ranchers and vitamins.

The judge’s conclusion was that sending a SWAT team into a home first thing in the morning based on a positive field test and spotting a suspect at a gardening store was not a violation of the Fourth Amendment. He found that the police had probable cause for the search and that the way the search was conducted did not constitute excessive force.

The judge also, according to Balko, “ruled that the police were under no obligation to know that drug testing field kits are inaccurate, nor were they obligated to wait for the more accurate lab tests before conducting the SWAT raid.”

The judge’s ruling said not only were there no constitutional violations, but it would be “incongruous for the court” to rule that the actions of the officers transgressed the bounds of decency.

And the judge noted “any imprisonment arising from execution of valid warrant does not constitute false imprisonment under Kanas (sic) law.”

The officers kept the family under armed guard for two-and-a-half hours and ultimately found only a hydroponic garden that contained “tomato plants.”

“No evidence of marijuana or other contraband was found,” the judge admitted.

The officers also were able to uncover the fact that “the plant material in the Hartes’ trash was nothing more than loose tea leaves that had been brewed by Mrs. Harte and discarded in the kitchen trash.”

“Police State USA: How Orwell’s Nightmare Is Becoming Our Reality” chronicles how America has arrived at the point of being a de facto police state, and what led to an out-of-control government that increasingly ignores the Constitution. Order today!

 

 

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