Saturday, March 29, 2014

If You Don't Want a SWAT Team at Your Door, You Shouldn't Be Drinking Tea

Why did a SWAT team raid Bob and Addie Harte's house in Leawood, Kansas, two years ago, then force the couple and their two children to sit on a couch for two hours while officers rifled their belongings, searching for "narcotics" that were not there? KSHB, the NBC station in Kansas City, reports that the Hartes made two mistakes: Bob went to a hydroponics store in Kansas City, Missouri, with his son to buy supplies for a school science project, and Addie drank tea. It cost them $25,000 to discover that these innocent actions earned them an early-morning visit by screaming, rifle-waving men with a battering ram.

The Hartes, who tried to reassure their neighbors by showing them the search report indicating that nothing was taken from their home, were naturally curious what they had done to attract police attention. But the Johnson County Sheriff's Office would not say, so the Hartes hired a lawyer to help them obtain the relevant records, which according to KSHB is not easy in Kansas because state law favors darkness over sunshine. Eventually the Hartes learned that a Missouri Highway Patrol trooper saw Bob at the hydroponics store on August 9, 2011. Seven months later, state police passed on this hot tip to the sheriff's office, which sprang into action (after a few weeks), rummaging through the Hartes' garbage three times in April 2012. On all three occasions, they found "wet plant material" that a field test supposedly identified as marijuana.

Such tests are notoriously unreliable, confusing chocolate with hashish, soy milk with GHB, and soap with cocaine, among other hilarious errors that result in fruitless searches, mistaken arrests, and false imprisonment. But the cops did not bother to confirm their field results with a more reliable lab test before charging into the Hartes' home, three days after their third surreptitious trash inspection. When the Hartes starting asking questions about the raid, the sheriff's office suddenly decided to test that wet plant material, which it turned out was not marijuana after all. The Hartes figure it must have been the loose tea that Addie favors, which she tends to toss into the trash after brewing. Field tests have been known to misidentify various possible tea ingredients, including spearmint, peppermint, lavendar, vanilla, anise, and chicory, as marijuana.

Since mistakes like this are pretty embarrassing, the Hartes think Kansas cops would be more careful if obtaining police records were easier. "You shouldn't have to have $25,000, even $5,000," Addie Harte tells KSHB. "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."

Original report here




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