Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Shopping at a gardening center is probable cause for a SWAT raid on your home

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Something is very seriously wrong, not only with law enforcement agencies and police departments, but also with the judiciary, which seem increasingly less judicious (e.g., judges who order people arrested for handing out leaflets on jury nullification, an arrest in violation of free-speech rights). In the Washington Post Radley Balko reports a recent incident:

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 criminaldrug 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. Why did the field tests come up positive for pot?  As I wrote back in February, it’s almost as if these tests come up positive whenever the police need them to. A partial list of substances that the tests have mistaken for illegal drugs would include sage, chocolate chip cookies, motor oil, spearmint, soap, tortilla dough, deodorant, billiard’s chalk, patchouli, flour, eucalyptus, breath mints, Jolly Ranchers and vitamins. Back in 2009, the Marijuana Policy Project demonstrated how easily the tests could be manipulated to generate positive results:

As a lab-coated and rubber glove wearing researcher from the South Carolina Center for Biotechnology dumped a sample of oregano into a field test kit, Mintwood Media’s Adam Eidinger produced a positive test result for cocaine with another kit simply by exposing it to the atmosphere. “This is just air,” Eidinger said, opening up a test and waving it as the reagent turned orange, indicating a positive result. (See the YouTube video here.)

The testing done at the press conference replicated that done earlier by the researchers, who found that a surprisingly large number of common substances generated false positive results for the presence of drugs. “While testing the specificity of the KN Reagent test kits with 42 non-marijuana substances, I observed that 70% of these tests rendered a false positive,” said Dr. Omar Bagasra, director of the Center for Biotechnology, who conducted the experiments.

That research came as part of new report, False Positives Equal False Justice, by forensics expert John Kelly in collaboration with former FBI chief scientist and narcotics officer Dr. Frederick Whitehurst. In the report, the pair uncovered “a drug testing regime of fraudulent forensics used by police, prosecutors, and judges which abrogates every American’s constitutional rights,” as Kelly wrote in the executive summary.

“Law enforcement officials, forensic drug analysts, and prosecutors knowingly employ the flawed Duquenois-Levine and KN Reagent tests as well as mere conclusory police reports to wrongfully prosecute and convict millions of individuals for anti-marijuana law violations,” Kelly wrote.

This is the same brand of test kit used in the Harte case. Despite the fact that the sheriff’s department didn’t begin investigating the Hartes until at least seven months after their allegedly suspicious activity (again — shopping at a gardening store) first attracted the notice of police, the sheriff’s department couldn’t wait for the more accurate laboratory tests to confirm that the “saturated plant material” was marijuana before sending a SWAT team into the Harte home. Doing so would have jeopardized the news hook of tying the raids to 4/20. It took all of 10 days to complete those lab tests. The lab not only concluded that substance wasn’t pot, the analysts added, “It does not look anything like marijuana leaves or stems.”

At the conclusion of the raids, the Sheriff’s Department held a press conference to tout their success. News reports emphasized that the raids had turned up drug activity “in good neighborhoods” in places like Leawood (where the Hartes live), and at the homes of “average Johnson County families.”

Once they had been cleared of any wrongdoing, the Hartes wanted to know what happened. Why had they been raided? What possible probable cause could the police have had for sending a SWAT team into their home first thing in the morning? But even that information would prove difficult to obtain. Under Kansas law, the sheriff’s department wasn’t obligated to turn over any information related to the raid — not to the Hartes, not to the media, not to anyone. The couple eventually had to hire an attorney to get a judge to order the sheriff to release the information. They spent more than $25,000 in legal fees just to learn why the sheriff had sent a SWAT team into their home. Once they finally had that information, the Hartes filed a lawsuit.

Last week, U.S. District Court Judge John W. Lungstrum dismissed every one of the Hartes’s claims. Harte found that sending a SWAT team into a home first thing in the morning based on no more than 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. He found that the Hartes had not been defamed by the raid or by the publicity surrounding it. He also 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 only way they’d have a claim would be if they could show that the police lied about the results, deliberately manipulated the tests or showed a reckless disregard for the truth — and he ruled that the Hartes had failed to do so.

Keep in mind that this was a ruling for summary judgment. This was not a trial. To dismiss the suit at this stage, Lungstrum needed to view the facts in a light most favorable to the Hartes. And yet he still found that at no point did the police violate the family’s constitutional rights. . .

Continue reading. There’s quite a bit more, and it’s important.

 

Written by Leisureguy

28 December 2015 at 11:27 am

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