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Leawood Couple Targeted In Bungled Marijuana Raid Settles Case Against Sheriff’s Deputies

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The Hartes purchased a hydroponic tomato-growing project similar to this one, which led sheriff's deputies to search their basement for an alleged marijuana operation.

Robert and Adlynn Harte, retired CIA employees, sued after sheriff's deputies raided their home looking for marijuana and found a tomato-growing operation in their basement instead.

A Leawood, Kansas, couple whose home was raided by a police tactical team in a bungled search for marijuana has settled its civil suit against the Johnson County Sheriff’s deputies who led the operation.

The amount of the settlement with Robert and Adlynn Harte, retired CIA employees, is unknown because the settlement document has been sealed. But U.S. District Judge John Lungstrum ruled he would unseal it once the parties have redacted portions related to the Hartes’ children.

Cheryl Pilate, an attorney for the Hartes, said the case had been "resolved to the mutual satisfaction of the parties." Larry Ferree III, a lawyer for the defendants, said the same thing.

The case, which drew national headlines, had a long, tortuous history.

The Hartes’ lawsuit was originally filed in 2013 and sought millions of dollars in damages for trespass, false arrest, assault and outrageous conduct that caused them severe emotional distress.

The Hartes sued after Johnson County Sheriff’s deputies raided their Leawood home in April 2012, eight months after Robert Harte and his two young children visited a hydroponic-gardening store and bought a small bag of supplies as part of a tomato-growing project in their basement.

A Missouri Highway Patrol officer was parked nearby, surveilling the store for people who might be buying supplies for indoor marijuana growing operations.

Based on the officer’s tip, Johnson County sheriff’s deputies rooted through the Hartes’ trash and found wet green vegetation mixed in with kitchen trash. After deputies conducted a field test and determined the vegetation was marijuana, seven officers clad in black SWAT uniforms and brandishing 9 mm Glocks, an AR-15 assault rifle and a battering ram pounded on the Hartes’ door and burst in, guns drawn, at around 7:30 a.m. on April 20, 2012, a day celebrated by marijuana activists.

Robert Harte was forced face-down to the floor, shirtless, as the deputies searched the house for more than two hours. All four family members, including the Harte children, were detained in the living room under armed guard.

The search proved fruitless, even after the deputies called in a drug dog. No marijuana was found and the vegetation in the trash turned out to be nothing more than loose-leaf tea.

The sheriff’s office claimed its search was conducted pursuant to a valid search warrant and the deputies were legally justified in detaining the family while the search was ongoing.

Lungstrum, the federal trial judge, dismissed the lawsuit in 2015 after finding the deputies were protected by qualified immunity and, in any event, could not have known their field tests on the vegetation had produced false positives.

The Hartes appealed and an appeals court panel partially reversed Lungstrum, allowing the Hartes to proceed to trial. In December 2017, a jury found against the Hartes and in favor of the sheriff’s deputies.

The Hartes appealed again. This time, the appeals court panel handed down three separate opinions, which led to confusion and prompted the panel to issue a lengthy clarifying opinion later.

In that opinion, the panel ruled that the Hartes could proceed to try their claims that the sheriff’s deputies improperly executed the search warrant; exceeded the scope of the warrant by searching for evidence of general criminal activity and not just a marijuana grow operation; and prolonged the Hartes’ detention, thus subjecting them to an illegal arrest.

The settlement resolves those claims, bringing an end to the case eight years after the raid on the Hartes’ home.

Dan Margolies is a senior reporter and editor at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.

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