Drug War

Weed Warriors Who Mistook Tea for Marijuana Will Pay Their Victims $150,000

After seven years of litigation, a Kansas couple finally obtains some compensation for a comically inept drug raid.

|

The Leawood, Kansas, couple whose home was raided in 2012 after sheriff's deputies claimed that loose tea found in their trash was marijuana will receive $150,000 for their trouble under a settlement agreement with the Johnson County Sheriff's Office. The settlement—which caps seven years of litigation, including two trips to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit—falls far short of the $7 million that Adlynn and Robert Harte originally sought. But it represents an implicit acknowledgment that the Hartes and their children suffered an outrageous invasion of their privacy and dignity in the service of a comically inept publicity stunt.

Here are some of the absurd facts that emerged as the couple's case was making its way through the courts:

• The family was targeted because Robert Harte bought supplies at a hydroponic gardening store in Kansas City. Harte was planning to grow vegetables with his son as a science project. But to Sgt. James Wingo of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, who was staking out the store, he looked like a cannabis kingpin.

• Wingo passed his hot tip to the Johnson County Sheriff's Office, which sat on the information for eight months. Deputies did not start investigating the Hartes until early April 2012, a couple of weeks before they planned to conduct a bunch of pot raids on April 20, the unofficial stoner holiday.

• The deputies never conducted a background investigation, which would have revealed not only that the Hartes had clean criminal records but that they were both former CIA employees with the highest level of security clearance.

• Desperate to justify a raid that had already been planned, deputies rummaged through the Hartes' garbage on three occasions. The first time around, Deputies Edward Blake and Mark Burns found "a small amount of wet, green vegetation," which they deemed innocuous.

• During his second inspection of the Hartes' trash, Burns found the same leaves, which he suddenly decided looked like "wet marijuana plant material." A drug field test supposedly confirmed the presence of THC.

• When Burns dove into the family's refuse a third time, just three days before the big 4/20 event, he found more leaves, which again supposedly tested positive for THC.

• The "wet marijuana plant material" was actually loose tea that Adlynn Harte favored. Burns later confessed that he had never seen loose tea before but thought, based on his training and experience, that it looked like marijuana leaves.

• A lab technician consulted after the raid disagreed, saying the leaves found in the Hartes' trash didn't "appear to be marijuana" to the unaided eye and didn't "look anything like marijuana leaves or stems" under a microscope.

• Field tests for drugs are notoriously unreliable. As 10th Circuit Judge Carlos Lucero noted after considering this case in 2017, one study "found a 70% false positive rate using this field test, with positive results obtained from substances including vanilla, peppermint, ginger, eucalyptus, cinnamon leaf, basil, thyme, lemon grass, lavender, organic oregano, organic spearmint, organic clove, patchouli, ginseng, a strip of newspaper, and even air."

• The label on the test kit used by Burns warns that its results "are only presumptive in nature" and should be confirmed by laboratory analysis. Yet then-Sheriff Frank Denning, who authorized the search of the Hartes' home without laboratory confirmation of the field test results, claimed he had never heard such tests could generate false positives, despite four decades in law enforcement and despite the warning on the label.

• The visit to the hydroponic store and the tea in the trash were the sole basis for the search warrant.

• On the day of the raid, 10th Circuit Judge Joel Carson noted in a 2019 opinion, "Bob opened the front door" shortly before 7:30 a.m., "and the deputies flooded in the foyer. Bob ended up on the ground with an assault rifle pointed at or near him. The deputies ordered Addie and the couple's two young children to sit cross-legged against a wall. A deputy eventually allowed the family to move to the living room couch where an armed deputy kept watch over them."

• It soon became clear that Johnson County's Keystone Cops had screwed up. "After searching the home for about fifteen to twenty minutes," Carson wrote, "the deputies found the hydroponic tomato garden that was readily visible from the exterior of the home through a front-facing basement window. And after ninety minutes of extensive searching, a couple of the deputies claimed to smell the 'faint odor of marijuana' at various places in the residence. A drug-detection dog showed up, but did not alert the officers to any other areas of the house requiring further searches. The dog's handler also did not smell marijuana."

• The deputies found no marijuana or any other evidence of illegal activity, even after searching the house "from stem to stern." But the same deputies who did not know the difference between tea and marijuana also did not realize there could be a legal explanation for the purchase of hydroponic gardening equipment. Blake "testified that up to that point in time, he had never seen a layout of a hydroponic-grow operation similar to Plaintiffs' that was not being used to grow marijuana."

Lucero summed up the situation well three years ago. "The defendants in this case caused an unjustified governmental intrusion into the Hartes' home based on nothing more than junk science, an incompetent investigation, and a publicity stunt," he wrote. "There was no probable cause at any step of the investigation. Not at the garden shop, not at the gathering of the tea leaves, and certainly not at the analytical stage when the officers willfully ignored directions to submit any presumed results to a laboratory for analysis. Full stop."

NEXT: United Airlines Received $5 Billion From Taxpayers to Protect Employees' Paychecks. Now It's Cutting Hours for 15,000 Workers.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Weed Warriors Who Mistook Tea for Marijuana Will Pay Their Victims $150,000

    The cops are going to pay? I’ll bet that’s not what really happens.

    1. Change Your Life Right Now! Work From Comfort Of Your Home And Receive Your First Paycheck Within A Week. No Experience Needed, No Boss Over Your Shoulder… Say Goodbye To Your Old Job! Limited Number Of Spots Open…
      Find out how HERE…… See More here

    2. The county taxpayers will pay it of course, and should for voting whoever hired these guys. Meanwhile in the 7 years of litigation, the taxpayers paid a bunch of inept deputies’ salaries who caused the expense, for a whole lot more than $150,000.

      1. With a settlement that low, why bother?

      2. They probably have liability insurance for such lawsuits.

    3. Every cop in the ‘operation’ should spend 7 years in prison. That’s justice.

    4. They should change the title to say “Taxpayers of an idiotic sheriffs department will pay victims $150,000”

      No actual cops will be harmed, fired, fined or even miss out on any paycheck or spend a second behind bars.

  2. A comically inept drug raid? Those Johnson County cops could take a lesson on comically inept from the Houston cops – now there was a comically inept drug raid to die for!

    1. Police departments always want to one up each other, I expect some other department will raise the bar on comically inept drug raids in short order.

    2. Start earning today from $600 to $754 easily by working online from home. Last month i have generate and received $19663 from this job by giving this only maximum 2 hours a day of my life. Easiest job in the world and earning from this job are just awesome. Everybody can now get this job and start earning cash online right now by just follow instructions click on this link and vist tabs( Home, Media, Tech ) for more details thanks….. See More Details

  3. Why is the award so low? 150k doesn’t seem nearly disuasive enough for the amount of disruption and embarrassment this caused, and seven years of litigation! Maybe if they’d just conceded they were wrong and offered a settlement 7 years ago…

    1. Then they’d have to settle *every* case where the cops trampled on the Constitution. Think of the poor suffering taxpayers.

      /sarc

      Seriously, would $150,000 even cover seven years’ of legal bills involving “two trips to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit”?

    2. And give up the power to engage in asset-forfeiture looting of homes and vehicles, just like that? That would run counter to the President’s Advisory Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships advising Bush Junior on WMDs and The Killer Weed. This was the bait Republicans used to get Dixiecrats to buy into their no-knock and shoot-the-dog armed robbery plans.

      1. Many conservatives have been in favor at least of decriminalization for years. Let’s also recall it was the Obama administration that cracked down on California after they legalized medical marijuana.

        … Come to think of it, a large number of conservatives oppose asset forfeiture these days as well.

  4. Kansas: 4/20 used as an excuse for harebrained drug raids. The thought that a bunch of people will decide to get high on the same day keeps them up at night, months of plotting is done in an effort to defeat this great evil.

    Colorado: 4/20 is unofficial state holiday, we have festivals. Weed shops have sales.

    Laboratories of democracy indeed.

    1. Being born on that date, it has its pluses and minuses. Though there is a little bit of pride that comes along with it. (Kinda like being born on the 4th of July). The list of famous and infamous people who share that birth date is quite extensive.

      https://www.ranker.com/list/celebrities-born-on-april-20/celebrity-lists

  5. WHAT KIND OF MONSTER DRINKS THAT MUCH TEA?

  6. You ALMOST have to admire their dedication to their own incompetent drug raid. Is there any other occupation that requires NEVER admitting to wrongdoing – even in the face of overwhelming facts indicating the same? It’s absolutely astounding and equally fucking infuriating.

    All of this over a (bullshit) allegation of a guy growing a plant. The drug war needs to end. Like yesterday…

    1. “Is there any other occupation that requires NEVER admitting to wrongdoing”

      Politics. Progressivism.

    2. “Is there any other occupation that requires NEVER admitting to wrongdoing – even in the face of overwhelming facts indicating the same?”

      Public School Administrator

      Climate Change Activist

      Leftwing Academic

      Others will occur to the cynical

      1. Gretchen Whitmer

  7. A million a year seems most reasonable.
    I would like to know if the $150,000.00 even covered legal expenses.

    1. If their lawyers are actually billing them for time, it wouldn’t even come close.

  8. These warrant-approving judges ought to do a little digging before signing off on the warrants.

    It says in the post that the test they used was only supposed to be preliminary. Would it be too much to ask the warrant judge to be knowledgeable of that fact?

    What kind of continuing education *do* these judges get?

    1. These warrant-approving judges ought to do a little digging before signing off on the warrants.

      What incentive do they have to do so? As far as I can see, the state judge who issued the warrant wasn’t even named anywhere.

      1. Rarely, if ever, do I see the name reported of the rubber stamp in a black robe who authorizes these home invasions.
        Apparently, the warrant affidavit determination process consists of a judge making sure the address is not his own before automatically approving it.
        The probable cause portion is satisfied if there are words there.
        I’m glad/surprised their dog survived.

        1. I do wonder why we even bother asking judges to approve search warrants if all they do is rubber stamp everything the cops do. I watched a lot of Law and Order (the original) back when it was airing and also the eternal reruns, and there were several episodes where they made a big deal out of getting sufficient evidence to convince a judge to sign a warrant. And that was a series that worshiped at the altar of statism and authoritarianism. It’s sad that reality can’t live up to that low standard.

          1. You know, there were quite a lot of episodes where I empathized entirely with the supposed criminal.

    2. This is not excusing the police screw-up, but they did tell the judge the “vegetable material” tested positive twice using field tests. They issue warrants in the belief that the police made good faith efforts to determine the facts.

      This should prove a useful “what we learned” lesson; no lab tests, no background checks, no other investigation about the family ahead of time… The only thing missing is a mythical informant. The local court should take a good, hard look at this police force.

  9. the same deputies who did not know the difference between tea and marijuana also did not realize there could be a legal explanation for the purchase of hydroponic gardening equipment. Blake “testified that up to that point in time, he had never seen a layout of a hydroponic- grow operation similar to Plaintiffs’ that was not being used to grow marijuana.”

    “Up to that point in time, I had never seen leaves in a trashcan that were not marijuana.”

    Burns later confessed that he had never seen loose tea before but thought, based on his training and experience, that it looked like marijuana leaves.

    “I had never seen a woman’s private parts before, but thought, based on my training and experience, that they looked like marijuana leaves. Actually, based on my training and experience, I think pretty much *everything* looks like marijuana leaves.”

    Any chance of civil lawsuits against these lying clowns?

    1. Don’t you give your marijuana a thorough boiling before throwing it out?

      1. Why would I throw out perfectly good weed?

  10. A federal jury in 2017 found in favor of the defendants…

    Of course it did.

  11. Leawood is one of the wealthiest/whitest areas in the region. I always thought black/poor people were targeted more but maybe the drug warriors are trying to make things more equal.

    1. How stupid would you have to be to go on an asset-forfeiture treasure hunt in a poor neighborhood rather than a wealthy one? I mean, sure, poor people are much less likely to be able to afford lawyers to fight back with, but they don’t have anything worth stealing and why would you care what lawyers cost to defend your thievery when you’re not the one who’s going to be paying them?

    2. People complained about the inequality, and government responded by increasing the nonsense they do to everyone instead of decreasing the nonsense they only do to the poor.

  12. “they were both former CIA employees with the highest level of security clearance”

    Who the heck cares? What if they *hadn’t* been ex-CIA, would the evidence have looked more suspicious?

    The takeaway is that the evidence was bogus, *even though* they were ex-CIA. They just happened to be ex-CIA who *weren’t* doing anything untoward.

    1. Theoretically if you’re the kind of person who would set up a hydroponic weed operation in your home they would’ve figured that out during the clearance process. That they got and maintained those clearances would’ve been an indicator that they’re not likely involved with that kind of thing.

      Now maybe those folks took up weed after retiring from the CIA, but if the police had known about their background they likely would’ve started from a place of “these folks probably aren’t drug dealers”.

      None of that matters though because the police didn’t approach any of this with even a shred of honesty. They wanted to make headlines for big pot busts on 4/20, how they were going to get there wasn’t really a concern.

      1. LOL! Accusing CIA agents of being drug dealers is a bit too on the nose, eh?

        1. CIA agents would never stoop to this low level of drug dealing, that’s what the patsies are for.

          Besides, that was for OFFICIAL GOVERNMENT BUSINESS. Dealing drugs for personal gain is verboten, how is the agency supposed to profit?

      2. At one point the CIA were by far the world’s largest cocaine smugglers. Being a member of an organisation that raised a great deal of it’s funding by dealing isn’t really a white mark in my book.

  13. they were both former CIA employees

    Agents of the Government Who Mistook Tea for Marijuana Will Pay Other Agents of the Government Who Mistook Yellow Cake for Yellow-cake Uranium $150,000

    1. Well, the taxpayers will pay, anyway.

  14. As long as asset-forfeiture is legal, prohibitionist looters will exploit that to confiscate your home and “accidentally” trigger another Crash and Recession to wipe out your retirement savings. It’s what happens when you vote for the initiation of force–you get what you asked for!

  15. Wonder if those crooked cops got fired.

    Yeah, probably not.

    1. Most likely promoted to training coordinator

  16. They were former CIA, so they were shit. Karma.
    “The whole good cop/bad cop question can be disposed of much more decisively. We need not enumerate what proportion of cops appears to be good or listen to someone’s anecdote about his Uncle Charlie, an allegedly good cop. We need only consider the following: (1) a cop’s job is to enforce the laws, all of them; (2) many of the laws are manifestly unjust, and some are even cruel and wicked; (3) therefore every cop has agreed to act as an enforcer for laws that are manifestly unjust or even cruel and wicked. There are no good cops.” ~Robert Higgs

  17. Captain: They threw their marijuana out with the trash?
    Officer 1: That’s right. We’re not sure why. Maybe it went bad or something.
    Captain: Why’s it wet?
    Officer 2: We think it was laced with PCP.
    Captain: Why?
    Officer 1: It’s like that Denzel Training Day movie. They called it “wet”.
    Captain: So they throw out Marijuana and PCP?
    Officer 2: They’re not very smart are they?
    Captain: It smells like tea.
    Officer 1: That’s probably how they disguise it. You know, to sell it to kids.
    Captain: I don’t know many kids that like tea.
    Officer 2: Well, tea is one of those gateway drugs. Like beer.
    Captain: This department doesn’t consider tea a gateway drug.
    Officer 1: No, but we can consider it one of those legal thingies, you know – probable cause!
    Captain: Get the fuck out of my office.
    Officer 2: Are we still raiding the house?
    Captain: OUT!

  18. It never occurred to the cops to ask themselves, “Why are they throwing unsmoked marijuana away?”

    How many people throw weed away if it gets wet?

  19. Perhaps someone told the cops they were having high tea?

  20. It can all be fixed with one sentence, “Government shall not initiate force.”, in the form of the 28th amendment.

    1. How does that work when you actually do have a violent armed felon on a rampage? The police do occasionally deal with that too.

      1. Perhaps you should look up ‘initiate’ in the dictionary.

  21. Cops and judges in Kansas are some of the dumbest in the country. Politicians in Kansas are some of the dumbest in the country. Voters in Kansas are some of the dumbest in the country.

    1. But what about the left coasts?

  22. Field tests for drugs are notoriously unreliable. As 10th Circuit Judge Carlos Lucero noted after considering this case in 2017, one study “found a 70% false positive rate using this field test, with positive results obtained from substances including vanilla, peppermint, ginger, eucalyptus, cinnamon leaf, basil, thyme, lemon grass, lavender, organic oregano, organic spearmint, organic clove, patchouli, ginseng, a strip of newspaper, and even air.”

    70% false positive rate? AYFKM!?!? You have to wonder if that’s a bug or a feature.

    1. “The Jury will hear that stringent scientific testing determined it was contraband, proving your guilt beyond any doubt. Now you can go bankrupt trying to fight this, and then spend decades in a rape cage, or you can give up your rights, pay a few thousand in restitution, and spend a couple years in probation. What’s it gonna be”?
      /defendant/victim *sobbing while signing plea deal*

  23. My question…Why can’t the officers be sued individually?

  24. Settlement for that chicken feed figure after 7 years of litigation is a major victory for the cops.

    The process is the punishment.

  25. For everyone wondering why marijuana might be in the garbage and be wet, it is very popular now to make extracts of marijuana. The diluents include alcohol, vegetable oil, ice water, and even butane.
    These extracts can be used orally as a THC tincture. Vaped as an oil, or smoked as in “shatter”.

  26. So would it be accurate to say this raid was based on someone consulting tea leaves? Asking for a friend.

  27. Thanks for sharing this blog with us. This is very helpful for explain how we save our future savings by the help of elder law attorney schemes.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.