Civil Liberties

Marauding SWAT Team Looks for Weed, Scores Organic Tomatoes and Scared Farmers



I take a back seat to nobody when it comes to enthusiasm for excellent tomatoes. I'll screech to a halt in front of a farm stand to score heirlooms for a batch of gazpacho. But, unlike police in Arlington, Texas,  I absolutely draw the line at kicking in doors with guns drawn just so I can get a pot of sauce simmering. Then again, the enthusiastic local constabulary knew so little about tomato plants that they mistook them for marijuana. Which, as we all know, is an herbal threat to the republic requiring the most brutal armed suppression. More disturbing, the SWAT raid seems to really have its roots in a dispute over … petty code violations.

Reports Ben Russell at NBCDFW:

The owners of a small organic farm in South Arlington are demanding an apology from police who raided the property in early August in what amounted to be a fruitless search for marijuana.

Arlington police and city Code Enforcement officers raided the Garden of Eden, a 3.5-acre farm on the 7300 block of Mansfield Cardinal Road on the morning of Aug. 2. Police were searching for marijuana in the gardens, according to search warrants obtained by NBC 5.

Code compliance officers found several reported code violations, but police did not any drugs.

"We live a very peaceful life here," said 30-year-old Quinn Eaker, a resident of the farm, who was arrested during the raid for an unrelated, outstanding warrant over unpaid parking tickets. "We've never hurt anybody. This is our land. We have the right to be secure in our person and our property. Period. That's undebatable."

Eaker told NBC 5 that the six adults who live at the farm—what they describe as a community that has come together with the common values of freedom, sustainability and consciousness—were handcuffed when SWAT officers from the Arlington Police Department came to their home with weapons drawn.

The video report (which I can't get to embed properly, so check it at the NBCDFW site) shows Eaker and company as apparent modern live-off-the-land hippies of just the sort to rub the average cop the wrong way. The Garden of Eden farm also has a running disagreement with local authorities about "code violations" which appear to be the sort of transgressions you'd expect of people who collect and store materials for re-use and capture rain water in barrels. The farm says, "[c]itations were initially issued for grass that was too tall, bushes growing too close to the street, a couch and piano in the yard, chopped wood that was not properly stacked, a piece of siding that was missing from the side of the house, and generally unclean premises."

Eaker and company are also pretty savvy on camera, and on the Web, where they've published their own take on events:

At around seven thirty last Friday morning, inhabitants of The Garden of Eden, a small Intentional Community based on Sustainability, were awakened by a SWAT raid conducted by the City of Arlington for suspicion of being a full fledged marijuana growth and trafficking operation. Ultimately only a single arrest was made based on unrelated outstanding traffic violations, a handful of citations were given for city code violations, and zero drug related violations were found.

The entire operation lasted about 10 hours and involved many dozens of city officials, SWAT team, police officers and code compliance employees, and numerous official vehicles including dozens of police cars and several specialized vehicular equipment that was involved in the "abatement" operation. Witnesses say that there were helicopters and unmanned flying drones circling the property in the days prior to the raid that are presumed to have been a part of the intelligence gathering. The combined expenses for the raid itself and the collection of information leading up to the fruitless raid are estimated in the tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars.

Claims about the use of aircraft are supported by the NBCDFW report, which says, "On July 30, a Texas Department of Public Safety aircraft conducted aerial surveillance of the Garden of Eden property, according to the warrant."

The Garden of Eden insists its members trimmed the bushes mentioned in the citation, but declined to address other issues becase they "are seen by the community members as a private matter of preference, since it is taking place entirely within the confines of their private land and has no effect on anyone."

U.S. Government

That's a perfectly reasonable position from a personal freedom perspective, as is owner Shellie Smith's position that "she is entitled to inalienable rights, granted by her creator, as all men and women are. Unless she has made a contract by a signed written agreement with another party, be it a man, a company or a government agency, or unless she has caused damage to a person or their property, no one shall have power over her."

Government officials tend to disagree, of course, and butt in wherever they can. That raises the very real likelihood that a lingering disagreement over petty code violations turned into a thorn in the side of local officials ticked off that somebody had the nerve to defy them. Expensive aircraft surveillance was then called upon because, damnit, hippies must be growing pot. And marijuana plants are always worthy of a SWAT raid.

Except … They weren't. A fully armed paramilitary team found itself ridding the world of the dread menace of garden-fresh tomatoes because local gauleiters were pissed about unstacked firewood. The excessive, expensive and potentially lethal tools of the war on drugs were very likely invoked for the pettiest of reasons.

If you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And if you're a government official with aircraft and SWAT teams, everything starts looking like a marijuana plant. If you want it to, anyway.

Update: Scott Shackford also wrote about this raid.