A Leawood couple is seeking $7 million in damages for what they said was a SWAT-style raid intended to find marijuana plants that instead turned up nothing.
The former CIA workers and their two young children on Tuesday sued in federal court in KCK. The lawsuit was filed against the Johnson County commissioners, Johnson County Sheriff Frank Denning and various deputies involved in the 2012 raid.
Citing the pending lawsuit, Johnson County officials said they could not comment.
Adlynn and Robert Harte say they and their then 13-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter were mistakenly detained at gunpoint for hours as deputies in SWAT gear turned their Leawood home upside-down.
They said their trash was searched several times in the days leading up to the raid and that deputies made false assumptions and failed to do proper legwork before deciding that the family had a major marijuana-growing operation inside their basement.
"The Hartes - targeted as marijuana growers on the basis of innocent purchases and the brewing of loose tea leaves that they discarded in the trash - were intimidated, accused, traumatized and held under armed guard for 2 1/2 hours despite the fact it was clear on the warrant on its face rested on virtually no grounds," according to the lawsuit.
The family contends if any probable cause did exist that it vanished within three minutes of deputies arriving and finding the family's hydroponic garden contained only "scraggly" tomatoes, squash and melons.
They said two innocent activities occurring at the same time led to the false conclusions. Robert Harte wanted to grow a small indoor garden for a class project with his son, and his wife liked to brew high-end tea with loose leaves.
"It was obvious after the discovery of the vegetable plants that the prolonged and illegal search was aimed simply at uncovering something that would get the deputies off the hook for their improper actions," the lawsuit says. "But the Hartes had never used any type of drugs, and there was nothing to find."
Two drug-sniffing dogs were brought in, the family claims, but neither found anything. Deputies tried to claim then that the 13-year-old boy was using marijuana.
The couple said 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.
After the humiliating experience, they said they had to take the search warrant receipt stating, "No items taken," to show neighbors in an effort to prove that they weren't drug dealers living in the midst of a quiet neighborhood.
The couple previously went to court to force the sheriff's office to turn over documents related to the raid.
The couple said their ordeal began when a Missouri Highway Patrol trooper saw Robert Harte and his two children leave a hydroponic store that caters to organic gardeners with "a small bag of merchandise."
Eight months would lapse in between. The family maintains that in those eight months that deputies failed to conduct any surveillance, interview neighbors, conduct thermal imaging, check electrical records or look at their clean criminal history before conducting the raid.
The family says Denning's desire to get publicity for making raids and arrests caused the sloppy investigative work.
"The raids were not a legitimate law enforcement operation, but rather were part of a publicity binge intended to place the sheriff and the department in a positive light," the lawsuit says.
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