A Leawood family whose home was raided more than five years ago by Johnson County sheriff’s deputies in a fruitless search for a marijuana growing operation lost its lawsuit alleging the deputies violated their Fourth Amendment rights.
A federal jury on Tuesday found in favor of the defendants and against Robert and Adlynn Harte, both retired CIA employees, and their two young children.
The eight-person jury – four men and four women – rendered its unanimous verdict after hearing testimony over six days. In a statement, Cheryl Pilate, an attorney for the Hartes, said they planned to appeal.
“Bob and Addie Harte and their children are grateful that they had the opportunity to tell their story to a jury,” Pilate said. “Although they are understandably disappointed in the outcome, they know that standing up for their rights as citizens was important -- not only for themselves and their family, but also to preserve the vitality of the Fourth Amendment for all citizens.
“They will never forget the day of the raid, and they believe their speaking out has helped to bring about positive change in Kansas' open records law and in police practices. They intend to see this process through to conclusion, and thus intend on pursuing an appeal.”
Attorneys for the defendants, which included the Johnson County Commission, now-retired Johnson County Sheriff Frank Denning and the 10 deputies involved in the raid, could not immediately be reached for comment.
The Hartes sought millions of dollars in compensatory and punitive damages for the bungled raid, which occurred nearly eight months after Robert Harte and his children visited a hydroponic-gardening store and bought a small bag of supplies for a tomato-growing project in their basement. A Missouri State Highway Patrol officer was parked nearby in an unmarked car, surveilling the store for possible evidence of people purchasing supplies for indoor marijuana grow operations.
The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office was eager to conduct a bust on April 20, 2012, a day celebrated by marijuana activists. The highway patrol officer, James Wingo, sent the office a list of names, including those of the Hartes.
Sheriff’s deputies then did three “trash pulls” at the Hartes’ Leawood home and found wet green vegetation, which they claimed field-tested positive for marijuana. Around 7:30 a.m. on April 20, 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.
They searched the house for more than two hours, finding the hydroponic tomato-growing operation but no marijuana. The wet vegetation uncovered in the trash pulls turned out to be loose-leaf Teavana tea.
The Hartes filed suit in 2013, seeking damages for trespass, false arrest, assault and outrageous conduct that caused them severe emotional distress. They also argued that once the deputies found the tomato-growing operation, they no longer had probable cause to continue their search.
The defendants claimed the search was conducted pursuant to a valid search warrant and they were legally justified in detaining the Hartes while the search was ongoing.
U.S. District Judge John Lungstrum tossed the lawsuit two years ago after finding that the deputies were protected by qualified immunity and, in any event, could not have known that the field tests they used had produced false positives.
But a federal appeals court reinstated some of the Hartes’ claims, and the case went to trial before Lungstrum a week ago Monday.
Dan Margolies is a senior reporter and editor for KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.