A SWAT team kept residents of an off-grid community in handcuffs for several hours while code enforcement officers confiscated and destroyed their organic crops, a new lawsuit alleges.
The suit arises from an incident in which police with automatic weapons and armor raided the Garden of Eden, a commune and organic farm in Arlington, Texas (a Dallas suburb) on August 2, 2013, but never showed residents a warrant, Off The Grid News reported two years ago. The cops were looking for marijuana which they never found, and which residents said never existed.
Residents filed suit this month in federal court, alleging their constitutional rights were violated.
After the raid, police called in city code enforcement officers, who confiscated sunflowers and blackberry bushes. City employees also destroyed okra, sweet potato plants and tomato plants while residents were held in custody.
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Police kept Garden of Eden residents in custody from 7:40 a.m. to 5 p.m. while code enforcement confiscated and destroyed their property, the suit filed in Tarrant Court alleges, according to The Dallas Morning News.
The raid involved 40 police cars and the SWAT team.
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Police Mistook Tomato Plants for Marijuana
The raid stemmed from an investigation by an undercover narcotics officer who received multiple reports that one of the residents was growing marijuana. As part of the investigation, police had a Texas Department of Public Safety agent fly over the property and take pictures. The agent spotted tomato, pepper, okra and basil plants that were mistaken for marijuana and used to justify the search warrant.
The narcotics officer did not produce enough evidence to justify the search warrant or the no-knock raid the SWAT team conducted, Garden of Eden attorney Wes Dauphinot alleged. The raid violated the group’s Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights, he said.
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The narcotics officer was apparently acting on tips supplied by an anonymous informant who claimed that a resident of the Garden, Quinn Eaker, was growing marijuana and covering it with bamboo, and was in possession of two rifles and a pistol, The Morning News reported. The SWAT team did not find any marijuana or guns.
Landowner Shellie Smith and her friends were practicing permaculture and trying to raise their own food, The Dallas Observer reported. They also used outhouses instead of regular plumbing in their attempt to practice an eco-friendly lifestyle. City officials objected to the lifestyle and started citing the Garden for code violations because it might lower property values.
The raid attracted national and international attention from media outlets ranging from the Huffington Post to the New York Daily News.
The suit requests punitive damages.
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