Tea Leaves & Gardening Store Visit Lead to Search

The catalyst for recent changes in Kansas state law is a highly publicized case from 2012 which has recently been brought back to the media’s attention due to recent court rulings. In 2012, the Hartes’ home was raided as part of a multistate marijuana enforcement operation. Police in swat gear, their weapons drawn, stormed the Hartes’ home at night demanding to be let in to search the house for drugs and possibly even a growing operation. The members of the search team had drug dogs, extensively searched the house, and are reported to have made disparaging remarks to the family. All of this was done in the presence of their two children who were just 7 and 13 at the time of the searches. The search turned up nothing.

Despite the search being business as usual for the police department, the search left the Hartes, and eventually the general public, wondering how the search had even come to be in the first place. The Hartes are both retired CIA agents who were required to go through extensive background checks for their prior positions. They lived in a high end neighborhood in Kansas, and neither of the Hartes had any drug related history. Even other typical signs of a marijuana growing operation such as high power usage were lacking.

The Hartes categorically denied any basis for the search and understandably were curious as to how the police department was authorized to storm their home. When the Hartes went to obtain the warrants authorizing the search, they learned that search warrants in Kansas are automatically sealed under state law. The Hartes had no means to see what facts the police alleged to convince a judge to authorize a search of their home. To obtain the documents, the Hartes spent more than $20,000 and a year of their lives navigating the judicial system to obtain copies of the documents that had been filed against them. Many people do not have $20,000 to spare let alone that type of money to spend on documents. On top of that, the Hartes had the legal wherewithal to navigate a system which was specifically designed to make it difficult if not impossible to get what they wanted.

Despite the hurdles, the Hartes continued to fight and eventually prevailed in some aspects. They were able to obtain copies of the search warrant affidavits that authorized the police to search their home. The basis for the search warrant was troubling. Through the affidavit, it was discovered that the police initially started watching the Hartes after their car was spotted at a store that sold hydroponic gardening equipment. To be clear, hydroponic gardens are used by many people to create self-sustaining indoor gardens that can function all year around. It is a gardening trend which has continued to increase in popularity in recent years as it allows individuals to grow their own food all year around. And in cooler climates, such as Western Washington, gardeners can grow a wider variety of plants that would normally not be an option without hot weather.

After the initial shopping trip, police continued to monitor the Hartes without much success until a few months later when their garbage was searched. During the search of the Hartes’ garbage the police discovered wet vegetation. The substance, which was actually loose leaf tea, was misidentified and provided a false positive for marijuana. According to an article in The Kansas City Star, a lab report conducted ten days after the search concluded “It does not look anything like marijuana leaves or stems.” Despite this conclusion, the marijuana leaves along with the shopping at a gardening store, was essentially the only evidence used to search the Hartes’ home.

The Hartes have been instrumental in changing Kansas law. Politicians have been working on passing legislation to clarify public records transparency laws passed a few years ago. The original law made it so that search warrant and arrest warrant affidavits could be opened to the public. Prior to the law, Kansas had a unique system in place which automatically sealed both documents making it very difficult for individuals to obtain copies even when they had a real interest in obtaining the documents. It is concerning to think of how many other individuals there are who have been victimized like the Hartes but who have not had the means or the know how to advocate for themselves.

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