A Leawood, Kansas couple filed a federal lawsuit this week over a 2012 “SWAT-style” home raid by heavily armed sheriff’s deputies who believed the couple were growing marijuana.
Adlynn and Robert Harte filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Kansas City stating that the actions of the deputies from the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office violated their constitutional rights and caused “humiliation, embarrassment and emotional distress.”
The lawsuit was filed against the Johnson County Board of Commissioners, Sheriff Frank Denning and seven deputies involved in the raid. It seeks $7 million in compensatory and punitive damages.
The lawsuit states that that ordeal started when a Missouri Highway Patrol trooper saw Robert Harte and his two children leaving a hydroponic store that caters to organic gardeners with “a small bag of merchandise.”
According to the suit, the Harte’s and their two children, ages 13 and 7 at the time, “were intimidated, accused, traumatized and held under armed guard” for more than two hours while deputies searched their home during the early morning raid.
Deputies subsequently searched the couple’s household trash several times and found discarded vegetable material, which actually was loose tea leaves, according to the suit.
They said two innocent activities occurring at the same time led to the false conclusions. Robert Harte wanted to grow a few vegetable plants in a small, indoor hydroponic garden for a class project with his son, and his wife liked to brew high-end tea with loose leaves.
Two drug-sniffing dogs were brought in, the family claims, but didn’t find anything. Deputies tried to claim then that their 13-year-old son was using marijuana.
Eight months went by. The family stated that in those eight months, deputies failed to conduct any surveillance, did not interview any neighbors, did not conduct thermal imaging, did not check electrical records or even bother to check their clean criminal history before implementing the raid.
The couple said that they left their jobs with the CIA to come to a quieter neighborhood to raise their children. Adlynn Harte is an in-house counsel at a financial services firm while Robert Harte is now a stay-at-home father. The family has lived in their Leawood home since 2004.
Johnson County officials said they could not comment on the pending lawsuit.
Following the humiliating experience, the Harte’s said they had to show the search warrant receipt stating, “No items taken,” to prove to their neighbors that they weren’t drug dealers living in the midst of a quiet neighborhood. That was after the couple had gone to court to force the sheriff’s office to turn over documents related to the raid.
In a written statement released through their attorneys, the Harte’s said the incident “changed our lives profoundly.”
“We hope that our suit leads to an examination of reckless and unjustified law enforcement practices and helps to bring about much needed reform,” they said. “While we greatly respect and support law enforcement, we strongly believe that such aggressive, intrusive and expensive techniques must be reserved for situations where their use is clearly merited.”
This makes you think twice before purchasing tea leaves or garden vegetables from a hydroponic store. So much aggravation, intimidation, time and money were wasted on this needless raid. What would you do if this happened to you? Feel free to comment on this blog post. For more information you can contact one of our Gacovino Lake attorneys at 1-800-246-HURT (4878).