Later On

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

Life in the US? or life in Hell? Outcome of case where a family was raided by a SWAT team over loose leaf tea

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Read all of Radley Balko’s column, which begins:

Here at The Watch, we’ve been closely following the case of Robert and Addie Harte, a Kansas couple who, along with their 7-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son, were raided by a SWAT team in April 2012, after police mistook Addie Harte’s loose leaf tea for marijuana. Read the linked posts for a full recap, but here’s a quick summary:

Seven months before the raid, a state trooper was surveilling a hydroponic plant store, writing down descriptions of customers and recording their license plates. The trooper saw Robert Harte and his son emerge from the story carrying a small bag. Months later, local police conducted a trash pull at the Harte home, which police can do without a warrant. They did three pulls and each time found the wet remnants of Addie Harte’s loose leaf tea. On two occasions, drug field tests on the tea registered false positives for pot. On this basis — and this basis alone — the cops staged a full-on raid of the Harte home. There was no further investigation.

It should have been immediately clear that the marijuana grow they were looking for was actually a school project. Robert Harte was helping his son grow tomatoes. Yet the police held the Hartes and their children under armed guard for more than two hours. Though they were clearly looking for a marijuana grow, when they didn’t find one the police then re-searched the home for evidence of personal-use quantities of drugs. They even brought in a drug dog. They found nothing. They ended the raid by telling the Hartes that they should have their children tested for drug use.

The raid was part of a series of raids across the state conducted on April 20 — that is, 4/20. Police agencies across the state had conducted similar raids the previous year. Before the raids even happened, the local sheriff’s department had already scheduled a press conference to gloat about its bounty. Despite relatively weak results — the raids on April 20 produced two arrests for misdemeanor possession, but not a single marijuana plant — they went ahead with the press conference, which produced news reports about how police had halted drug activity “in good neighborhoods” in places such as Leawood (where the Hartes live) and at the homes of “average Johnson County families.”

According to court records, the raid on the Harte family became something of a joke among local police. (Hilarious!) At the time, Kansas open-records laws were enormously deferential to police agencies. The Hartes had to spend more than $25,000 in legal fees just to get a copy of the affidavit for the search warrant. Which is to say they had to spend $25,000 just to learn why armed police officers stormed their home early in the morning. It was only then that they learned about the police mistaking tea leaves for pot.

The field tests the police used on the tea leaves are notoriously unreliable. Studies have shown them to have error rates as high as 70 percent. The tests themselves say that they should only be used to establish suspicion of an illicit substance, and that the substance itself should then be sent to a lab for more conclusive tests. The police never did that, likely because they were facing pressure to conduct the raid in time for it to be part of that 4/20 press conference. Though the state trooper had spotted Robert Harte more than six months earlier, he didn’t give the sheriff’s department Harte’s name until March. The trash pulls were conducted on April 3, 10 and 17. There just wasn’t time for a lab test.

Despite all of this, in 2014 a federal district court judge dismissed every one of their claims on summary judgment. Here’s a summary of the decision from a post I put up at the time: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 July 2017 at 2:49 pm

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