Drugs

The Weed Warriors Who Mistook Tea for Marijuana

The Hartes were the victims of a comically inept publicity stunt executed by cops who did not realize that hydroponic equipment could be used to grow tomatoes and did not know what loose-leaf tea looked like.

|

On a Friday morning in April 2012, heavily armed sheriff's deputies stormed into Bob and Addie Harte's house in Leawood, Kansas, looking for a nonexistent marijuana garden. The deputies confined the Hartes and their two children to a living room couch for two hours as they conducted an increasingly desperate search that discovered nothing illegal.

The Hartes were the victims of a comically inept publicity stunt executed by cops who did not realize that hydroponic equipment could be used to grow tomatoes and did not know the difference between tea and marijuana. The fiasco led to seven years of litigation that culminated in a settlement, unsealed in May, in which the Johnson County Sheriff's Office agreed to pay the family $150,000.

The Hartes were targeted because Sgt. James Wingo of the Missouri State Highway Patrol saw Bob visit a hydroponic gardening store in Kansas City on August 9, 2011. Bob was planning to grow vegetables with his son. To Wingo, he looked like a cannabis kingpin.

Johnson County's drug warriors sat on Wingo's hot tip for eight months, springing into action a couple of weeks before April 20, the unofficial stoner holiday, when they planned to conduct a bunch of pot raids. They never did a background investigation, which would have revealed not only that the Hartes had clean criminal records but also that they both had worked at the CIA with the highest level of security clearance.

Instead, the cops repeatedly rummaged through the family's garbage, finding "wet, green vegetation" that Deputy Mark Burns initially deemed innocuous but subsequently described as "marijuana plant material." It was actually Addie's tea.

Burns later confessed he had never seen loose-leaf tea before but thought, based on his training and experience, that it looked like marijuana. A lab technician consulted after the raid disagreed, saying the evidence retrieved from the Hartes' trash didn't "look anything like marijuana leaves or stems."

Drug field tests, which are notoriously unreliable, supposedly confirmed the presence of THC in Addie's tea. The deputies did not bother to have the results confirmed by a laboratory. Frank Denning, the sheriff who authorized the search warrant application, later claimed he had never heard field tests could generate false positives, despite a warning on the test kit label and four decades of law enforcement experience.

"There was no probable cause at any step of the investigation," a federal appeals court judge concluded in 2017. "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."

Advertisement

NEXT: Brickbat: Public Forum

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. ●▬▬▬▬PART TcIME JOBS▬▬▬▬▬●

    I am making $165 an hour working from home. i was greatly surprised at the same time as my neighbour advised me she changed into averaging $ninety five however I see the way it works now. I experience masses freedom now that i’m my non-public boss. that is what I do……
    ↓↓↓↓COPY THIS SITE↓↓↓↓

    HERE►https://bit.ly/3goJllz

  2. Every month start earning more cash from $20,000 to $24,000 by working very simple j0b 0nline from home. I have earned last month $23159 from this by just doing this 0nline w0rk for maximum 3 to 4 hrs a day using my laptop. This home j0b is just awesome and regular earning from this are much times better than other regular 9 to 5 desk j0b. Now every person on this earth can get this j0b and start making dollars 0nline just by follow instructions on the given web page>>>>>>>>>>>>>https://bit.ly/3goJllz

  3. And nothing else happened.

    CB

    1. Actually, a fair amount else happened. This story doesn’t discuss it but others at Reason (and elsewhere) have. The couple lost their security clearances and therefore their jobs during the investigation. Their kids were traumatized and their reputations ruined.

      For the cops who displayed such gross incompetence, on the other hand, you’re right – nothing else happened.

      1. I Make Money At H0me.Let’s start work offered by Google!!Yes,this is definitely the most financially rewarding Job I’ve had . Last Monday I bought a great Lotus Elan after I been earning $9534 this-last/5 weeks and-a little over, $10k last month . . I started this four months/ago and immediately started to bring home minimum $97 per/hr

        Heres what I do…………► Home Profit System

  4. I don’t know how the hell this country turned out as well as it has with all the stupidity around. Maybe profound and widespread stupidity is one of the necessary components of a successful country?

    1. No, only an expanding government.

    2. Maybe profound and widespread stupidity is one of the necessary components of a successful country?

      Depends on how one defines “successful country.” If you define it as “a nation that stays true to its stated principles and whose government continues to operate strictly according to its founding legal documents” then we are anything but a “successful country.” We’re practically a failed state.

  5. Another late breaking news story from reason.
    Click away!

  6. “On a Friday morning in April 2012…”

    So, based on the current method of allocating blame, it’s all Obama’s fault.

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

    Did he also confess, based on his training and experience, that *everything* looked like marijuana?

    1. Don’t be silly. flour and powdered sugar look like cocaine.

    2. He has a major case of reefer madness.

    3. Water is a precursor meth solvent.

    4. Every time a cop uses the phrase “based on my training and experience” you know they are probably full of it. It’s a CYA phrase. “It’s not my fault, you see, that I am incompetent… I was trained that way.”

  8. Apparently Reason is running out of new content in 2020.

    One would think between riots, pandemic, and election shenanigans that they wouldn’t need to regurgitate a 2012 story to further the “pot is the most pressing Libertarian concern, evah!” theme of Reason.

    1. The settlement was unsealed in May so the story is current.

      1. May. You really think thats current?

        I stand by my statement. Reason will do anything to focus on its Drugs are Awesome theme regardless of anything actually relevant to Libertarians. Zerohedge posts more topics from Ron Paul and other Libertarian voices then Reason does.

        Must be all the pot being smoked.

  9. This what happens when the police don’t have anything to do. They start inventing crimes. The solution is to give the cops something productive to do. Like gardening, or picking up trash on weekends, or delivering meals to the elderly. Scratch that last one, don’t want the shooting the companion animals of the elderly. Maybe we can have all the cops just attend US Constitution Training every weekend.

    1. “…Like gardening…”

      Hydroponic?

    2. “cops just attend US Constitution Training every weekend.”

      That’s… actually not a bad idea. I would definitely put that in the ‘least terrible use of tax dollars’ column. High praise from me.

  10. They never did a background investigation, which would have revealed not only that the Hartes had clean criminal records but also that they both had worked at the CIA with the highest level of security clearance.

    That would have exonerated them. CIA doesn’t handle marijuana – everyone knows they run cocaine to poor black neighborhoods

    /Maxine Waters

  11. At least 12 articles on this since 2013. Yes we get it already find some new material.

    1. The fiasco led to seven years of litigation that culminated in a settlement, unsealed in May, in which the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office agreed to pay the family $150,000.

      I mean, it is an update.

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

    Yet more justification for why when a cop says “based on training and experience”, the cop is blowing smoke up your ass.

    1. “…Burns later confessed he had never seen loose-leaf tea before but thought, based on his training and experience, that it looked like marijuana…”

      But really he was just lying through his teeth.

  13. “Johnson County Sheriff’s Office agreed to pay the family $150,000″… This should have been worth millions, easy! What kind of hack attorney did they use?
    What about the Sheriff/deputies and the STATE Municipal terrorist? What were their penalties for abject contempt of their oath of office? They should all be in prison and had all of their assets seized and sold to be used for compensation.
    Since when does a Sheriff have the authority to approve a warrant? Why wasn’t he charged with exceeding his jurisdiction & acting outside his authority? Deprivation of rights under color of law? Denial of Due Process of Law?
    As if what they did wasn’t enough of a travesty, the legal repercussions were a farce!!!

    https://www.nationallibertyalliance.org/ Take back the republic people or start explaining to your kids why they doomed to slavery.

    1. Yeah 150k seems like pretty weak tea under the circumstances.

      1. Certainly no high grade weed tea, that’s for sure.

  14. “Based on his training and experience…”
    Every time some shitsmoker says this and is wrong, he should be beaten stupid with his own training manual.

  15. “…To Wingo, he looked like a cannabis kingpin…”

    Spots ’em a mile off, does that WIngo! Real eagle-eye!

  16. Drug war sucks, and this case does too. But reason’s been milking this story for years. Go find a new one.

  17. What an outrage that public moneys are being wasted on such nonsense. The fact they time it around April 20th show this is personal and not professional supervision of tax dollars. There are unsolved violent and property crimes and they are spending time investigating people they suspect might be growing a green plant.

  18. And who does society promote as the experts on drugs? The police. It’s for the children.

  19. All manner of things that Cops Don’t Know, or might they simply be willfully ignorant, aka ignorant by choice?

  20. Every month start earning more cash from $20,000 to $24,000 by working very simple j0b 0nline from home. I have earned last month $23159 from this by just doing this 0nline w0rk for maximum 3 to 4 hrs a day using my laptop. This home j0b is just awesome and regular earning from this are much times better than other regular 9 to 5 desk j0b. Now every person on this earth can get this j0b and start making dollars 0nline just by follow instructions on the given web page>>>>Click here.

  21. I­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­ quit working at shoprite to work online and with a little effort I easily bring in around $45 to 85 per/h. Without a doubt, this is the easiest and most financially rewarding job I’ve ever had.ESd I actually started 6 months ago and this has totally changed my life.

    For more details………………══════❥❥❥❥ CLICK HERE

Please to post comments