A SWAT team raided Addie and Robert Harte’s home in April 2012 searching for marijuana as part of an annual series of drug busts timed to the “4/20” cannabis-culture holiday.
The investigation started seven months earlier, when a state police spotted Robert buying gardening supplies to grow hydroponic tomatoes for his 13-year old son’s school project.
The state trooper reported the incident to Johnson County Sheriff’s Department, which searched through the family’s trash without a warrant, and found “saturated plant material” that was seized as evidence of marijuana.
A drug analysis by a field kit pointed to the presence of THC, an active drug in marijuana, but later lab tests showed the “saturated plant material” to be loose leaf.
However, the false positive and Harte’s purchase of plant supplies were sufficient reason for a search warrant. The SWAT team burst into the Hartes' home at dawn and held the family at gun point for two hours, while they searched the house in vain for evidence of pot.
The couple, who are both former CIA employees, filed a lawsuit against the sheriff’s department but faced many obstacles on the way. They spent $25,000 in legal fees to find out why the SWAT team was sent to their homes.
John Lungstrum, the U.S. district court judge passed a verdict on Friday in favor of the county’s sheriff stating that the false positive test and the loose leaves were sufficient cause for a SWAT raid, which was lawfully conducted.
Kansas is the only state where affidavits in support of search warrants were closed records. After the couple presented their testimony before the lawmakers, however, the state legislature changed the decree that shielded search warrant affidavits from public view.
The sheriff’s department also adjusted its policies to require lab confirmation of suspected drugs instead of relying on field kits that are known for being erratic.
The Hartes are continuing their fight against the way police conduct raids, demanding that officers time their raids to school hours instead of at dawn, to protect child safety.