Drug Policy

Fifth Circuit: Police Not Liable for Plants Mistakenly Destroyed in Drug Raid

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The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a federal judge's dismissal of a lawsuit against a sheriff in Harrison County, Mississippi who destroyed $225,000 worth of kenaf plants during a drug raid.  The sheriff and his deputies mistook the plants for marijuana.  They seized the plants even after a sample tested negative for THC.

Marion Waltman, the owner of the plants, was asking to be compensated for the destruction of his property.  The appeals court upheld the circuit court judge's ruling that the qualified immunity enjoyed by government employees requires Waltman to show "deliberate indifference" on the part of the sheriff, and that Waltman failed to meet that standard.

Waltman might still be able to sue in state court.  But for now, he'll have to foot the bill for the sheriff's $225,000 mistake.

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  1. Good ol’ Payne. It’s kinda bizarre actually. Everyone hated him yet he kept getting re-elected. The best story I ever heard about him was after Katrina. He did a commercial saying if anyone even suspected someone of committing fraud to give his special hotline a call. Story goes he started ripping off the ones committing fraud.

  2. Many people think once you are in LE you have “More Rights” You will soon find out you are in a minority. You should have anticipated that this could have happened and headed it off prior to anyone calling this to your attention. You are now held at a higher standard. Argue all you want but I am speaking from experience. You must set a stellar example or you will be critisized. UNfair maybe realistic yes. Welcome to the brotherhood. Grin and bear it. Be objective, fair, and firm and you will do well. Do not allow someone else to use any behavior on your part against you. This will be a true trial of character. How you do whether you stay in LE or not will be your guide on how you do in life. Welcome to the big league.

  3. What a hideous injustice! The ruling does say that he can can sue in state court. I sure hope the poor guy prevails if that’s what he chooses.

  4. I guess my being a LEO has a big part in how I feel about that since we will be held to a higher standard……even in our own homes.

  5. Mississippi again!? This law enforcement seems kind of dim, too. Look carefully at the leaves in the picture…* I love how the cops claimed ignorance, too. Call an expert? The sherriff just seems kind of dumb.

  6. Given this case, I imagine a cop could get away with lighting a guy’s house on fire in order to destroy drugs he suspected were within.

    Qualified immunity only makes it possible for an agent of the state to act with reckless indifference without the possibility of being called to account. Get rid of it.

  7. Damn, I joe’z law’d myself with the extra ‘r’.

  8. Based on this image I suppose that I could see a cop mistaking kenaf for marijuana. However, I think they ought to be liable for them seeing as they’re legal. But as we know, anything goes in the War on Drugs.

  9. I wonder if any sheriff deputies tried to smoke the plants.

  10. Ok so a test that shows no THC but they just decide to destroy it all anyway and that’s not show “deliberate indifference”?

  11. Elemenope-

    Another example of chaos. Or is this more “low grade opression”?

    I don’t know if you responded to my question concerning how one would describe the state of affairs in Mugabe land. Chaos or just a stronger strain of “low grade Opression”?

  12. a test that shows no THC but they just decide to destroy it all anyway and that’s not show “deliberate indifference”?

    Testing for THC must be a lot easier than testing for deliberate indifference.

  13. According to the article, the guy paid $2000 for the seeds. No doubt there’s a reasonable expense in planting ’em, but I don’t see on what grounds the guy would’ve suffered $225k worth of damage. If he had sued for $50 million, would this be considered a $50 mil mistake by the sheriff?

    I fully agree that the guy deserves to be compensated for his loss, and I wouldn’t mind if that sheriff lost his job, but let’s not make the taxpayers pay for more damages than the guy legitimately suffered.

  14. I fully agree that the guy deserves to be compensated for his loss, and I wouldn’t mind if that sheriff lost his job, but let’s not make the taxpayers pay for more damages than the guy legitimately suffered.

    And therein lies the problem with making the “taxpayers” pay, instead of the person actually responsible for committing the unlawful actions.

  15. LE? LEO? What’s that mean? You danged kids with yer hip jargon.

  16. Mike: Law Enforcement (Officer)

  17. But as we know, anything goes in the War on Drugs.

    After all (and the sheriff even alluded to this), it’s “for the children”.

  18. Geez. If they actually tested the plants, found that they could not have been marijuana (for lack of THC), and still obliterated the guy’s garden, that would seemingly prove “deliberate indifference.” They could, for example, have “frozen” the scene, dried a sufficient portion for further testing, then decided what action to take. They did not. Instead, they leveled the garden based on an assumption that they had good reason to believe was wrong.

    If that does not suffice, what would rise to the level of proving deliberate indifference?

  19. Another example of chaos. Or is this more “low grade oppression”?

    Dude, for fuck’s sake, look up CHAOS in a dictionary, and then look up OPPRESSION. Shit, you could even use a thesaurus: does one appear listed as a synonym for the other, in either entry?

    And oppression, much as you scoff, does come in gradations, a ‘continuum of suck’ if you will.

    Low-grade oppression is the sort of scattered incidents of dickheads with badges acting like imperious assholes, wishing themselves the kingship of their own sad little hills.

    Medium-grade oppression is rounding up groups of people, killing a few, turning attack dogs and firehoses on crowds or groups, etc.

    High-grade oppression is genocide.

    You can tell the difference, can’t you? Or is the whole world in black and white?

  20. Brambly, the value is determined by the market value at the time of destruction, not the raw materials.

    What I want to know is why they bothered suing the sheriff instead of going after the county for a property taking. I can only assume he was trying to grind an ax.

    What I’d like to see is some future case where this sheriff testifies in court that he has extensive on the job experience at recognizing marijuana followed by the defense attorney using this case to impeach him.

  21. According to the article, the guy paid $2000 for the seeds. No doubt there’s a reasonable expense in planting ’em, but I don’t see on what grounds the guy would’ve suffered $225k worth of damage.

    If thats the retail value, perhaps I need to get into that business. If we assume that planting, maintence, etc. is worth $2500, then the retail is 50 times the cost. I wouldn’t mind a 4900% Return on Investment.

  22. If they actually tested the plants, found that they could not have been marijuana (for lack of THC), and still obliterated the guy’s garden, that would seemingly prove “deliberate indifference.”

    The plaintiff wasn’t able to prove indifference because the facts don’t prove indifference, they prove malice.

  23. This is silly; the war on drugs has been a complete failure from day one. Maybe we should let drug users form their own community? Even better, let people do drugs at home if they can control it without harming the community.

  24. Libertarian Socialism | July 12, 2008, 5:14pm | #

    Holy mother of fuck! Someone found their way out of the anarcho-syndicalist commune!

  25. Yeah, that $225,000 number was clearly Waltman’s swinging for the fences. Each plant was supposedly worth $450? Nah.

    Further, I don’t think destroying harmless Hibiscus cannabinus is morally worse than destroying harmless Cannabinus sativa.

  26. Y’all arguing about the value of the plants are missing the point. The lawsuit was not dismissed because he sued for too much money.

  27. I’d say they were liable for any damage done after they tested the plants for THC and found none. I can see how they might mistake it for marijuana prior to testing, and have a judge find them not legally liable, since prior to testing a reasonably intelligent person might think it was dope.

    Not defending the underlying law against growing dope, BTW, just commenting on what a judge required to uphold the law as written should have decided.

  28. All this assuming that confiscation is A-OK by the Fifth Circuit and all circuits, switches and various and sundry other connections, male and female, reminds me of
    http://www.predictablyirrational.com/
    In the book is an experiment that proves people take hard cash more seriously, but personal property? nah… No way. What’s yours is mine… Get used to it.

    Ruthless

  29. “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds,” first published in 1841, speaks of a guy who, during the “tulip bulb bubble” in Holland back in the 1500’s happened to venture into the cellar of a prime speculator. He ate his prize bulb, thinking it was who knows what. Presumably instantly sent his host into bankruptcy.

    Did Euell Gibbons ever get his chompers on a kenaf plant?
    Euell never said the lining of pine trees tasted good. He said you could eat it.

  30. Mike: Law Enforcement (Officer)

    Oh. I would never have guessed that’s what it means. Seems like one would not need an acronym here; there are at least a couple of existing three-letter terms for law enforcement officers.

  31. “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds,” first published in 1841, speaks of a guy who, during the “tulip bulb bubble” in Holland back in the 1500’s happened to venture into the cellar of a prime speculator. He ate his prize bulb, thinking it was who knows what. Presumably instantly sent his host into bankruptcy”

    That could have been the most expensive meal ever.

  32. a couple of existing three-letter terms for law enforcement officers

    A citizen is arrested, tried, and convicted for calling a police officer a donkey. After paying the fine, he asks the judge whether he has been given to understand that he must not call a police officer a donkey. The judge replies in the affirmative, commending the citizen for having learned his lesson. Citizen then asks the judge whether it would be permissible to call a donkey a police officer. Judge replies that he might do so if he wishes. On his departure from the courtroom, the citizen turns to the police officer, tips his hat, and says, “Good-day, then, Mister Police Officer.”

    (Paraphrased from G.K. Chesterton.)

  33. Damn you, Radley. It would be a lot easier to pretend that things weren’t that bad in the U.S. if you’d quit doing all of this work exposing various governments.

    Sigh.. keep up the good work.

  34. The appeals court upheld the circuit court judge’s ruling that the qualified immunity enjoyed by government employees requires Waltman to show “deliberate indifference” on the part of the sheriff

    Which basically means that LEO’s can do whatever the fuck they want. And I always thought indifference was a passive concept. Leave to idiotic judges to come up with another oxymoron.

    The only reason we have any kind of immunity is because of the degree of incompetence of most levels of government. Most of the time is would be so easy to show how fucking stupid the executive is. And the pussy fucking courts can’t live with making the executive accountable

  35. I’m going to pass on discussing the legal issues here because the law is an ass. Rather I will coment on the moral issue of taking responsibility for the results of your own actions.
    I firmly believe that if you break it, you bought it. Even little children are aware of their obligation to clean up after they make a mess. That this case even had to go to court demonstrates that simple moality we try to imbue in little children is lacking in the person of Sheriff George H. Payne.

    Sadly, Mississippi has never* had a functioning justice system.

    *That’s not hyperbole. In Mississippi’s 191 year history, justice has been systematically denied much of the populace.

  36. Close, damned tag!
    Close, I say!

  37. That’s a good point about Mississippi, J Sub D. I hate to bring up Medgar Evers, but let’s face it, Mississippi has a really, really bad history with justice, civil rights, progressive movements, that sort of thing. It’s really kind of embarrassing.

  38. And Emmitt Till, et al. You’d almost expect Mississippi to be extra-conscientious now, given their past, but…

    Naw, I guess not.

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