Family’s 4th Amendment legal battle: SWAT raid of home leads to tomato plants

Bob Harte displays the indoor garden his family cultivates. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

At 7:30 A.M, Bob Harte walked downstairs to answer “clamorous pounding” on his front door of his home in Leawood, Kansas. He opened his door to a group of officers clad in SWAT gear brandishing Glock 9mm pistols and an AR-15 rifle, preparing to breach his front door with a battering ram.

The officers rushed into the home, shouting at Hart to get on the ground and demanding to know where his kids were.

“And I’m laying there staring at this guy’s boots fearing for my kids’ lives, trying to tell them where my children are,” Harte recalled later in a deposition on July 9, 2015. “They are sending these guys with their guns drawn running upstairs to bust into my children’s house, bedroom, wake them out of bed.”

The deputies discovered their main “evidence” within three minutes — a  hydroponic grow system housing a few “struggling tomato plants” — Harte and his son’s school science project. Yet, police searched the house for 2 1/2 more hours, and even with drug dogs, found nothing.

At the 11 A.M, Bob Harte was handed the warrant stating “no items taken,” that their home had been raided because “seeds and stems” had been found on their property, and suggested they have a “family meeting” with their 13-year old son about marijuana use.

Bob Harte, embarrassed, attempted to clear his name by showing his neighbors the search came up empty. The family wondered what prompted the raid, but found citizens could not access public records under Kansas law (at that time).

“We were chosen more or less at random for this drug raid and we were like ‘what do you mean we can’t get the records? They raided our house,”  Addie Harte told KHSB.

The Hartes’ hired an attorney and a year and $25,000 later, obtained records stating their home was raided because of a shopping trip and a tea preference.

It all started with Missouri Highway Sgt. James Wingo who conducted surveillance at a garden store in Kansas city for “three to four hours a day,” “keeping meticulous notes on all of the customers,” and would send information to local police departments who planned raids across the state on April 20, the unofficial stoner holiday.

Wingo shared Harte’s information with Johnston County Sheriffs Officer (JCSO) Tom Reddin on March 20, although Wingo admitted he “[didn’t] really have enough new contacts to justify a full throttle 420 operation.”

Reddin pre-planned a 2 P.M. press conference on 4/20 to celebrate seizures from drug raids — giving police less than a month to find probable cause to justify a search warrant.

As part of their hunt, police dug through the Harte’s trash and found “wet clumps of plant material” that deputies said tested positive for marijuana in a field test.

They did not have time to test it in a laboratory before the April 20th raid. Instead, JCSO applied and was granted a search warrant on the evidence of Wingo’s tip and wet tea leaves, according to court documents.

The Hartes’s filed a lawsuit against the JCSO in 2012 for unlawful search and seizure, which a federal judge dismissed in 2015.

They appealed, and on July 18, 2017, a three-judge panel on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the decision, sending the Hartes back to district court to pursue their claim that the deputies lied about evidence.

The Hartes’ struggle was not in vain. In May 2014, Kansas Legislature passed a partial open record bill that was signed into law, an issue brought to light by the Harte’s raid.

“This not what justice in the United States is supposed to be,” Addie Harte told KHSB. “You shouldn’t have to have $25,000, even $5,000. You shouldn’t have to have that kind of money to find out why people came raiding your house like some sort of police state.”

 


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