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Buying hydroponics equipment  in Kansas is apparently justification for a search and seizure warrant. The Harte family’s desire to live a more sustainable existence resulted in a gun-toting raid on their home recently. Robert Harte’s “crime” was the purchase of growing equipment to raise melons and tomatoes in his basement.
Harte stated during interviews with local media outlets that the raid was like a scene from the Zero Dark Thirty movie when soldiers stormed the compound. Police dogs entered the Leawood, Kansas home, followed by armed agents. The law enforcement officers then reportedly accused the Robert and Adlynn Harte’s  13-year-old son of growing pot in the basement.
Adylnn had this to say about the hydroponics equipment induced raid:
“If this can happen to us and we are educated and have reasonable resources, how does somebody who maybe hasn’t led a perfect life supposed to be free in this country?”
The upscale home owned by the two former CIA staffers was searched unsuccessfully for marijuana during a multi-state drug sweep. Roberta Harte had to sue authorities under the Kansas Open Records Act in order to gain access to information pertaining to why the local sheriff’s office decided to target their home. Robert and Adlynn successfully and rightly maintained that the public has an interest in knowing if law enforcement agencies participated in raids based upon a well-founded belief of illegal activity.
The lawsuit also stated that the Harte’s 7-year-old daughter and teenage son were frightened and shocked to see agents wearing bulletproof vests carrying assault rifles entering their home. The couple’s legal suit also maintains that law enforcement agents made rude comments while searching the home and suggested that their son was smoking marijuana.
After the drug dog made its rounds, a “No items taken” receipt was issued and the officers left the home. The drug raid occurred about 7:30 am on April 20. That date has special significance in the marijuana legalization movement and therefore, likely influenced the timing of the two-state pot sweep.
The drug raid was dubbed Operation Constant Gardener and was conducted by agencies in both Missouri and Kansas. Cheryl Pilate, the attorney for the Harte family, had this to say about the search of the 1,825-square-foot home:
“With little or no other evidence of any illegal activity, law enforcement officers make the assumption that shoppers at the store are potential marijuana growers, even though the stores are most commonly frequented by backyard gardeners who grow organically or start seedlings indoors. You can’t go into people’s homes and conduct searches without probable cause.”
No charges were ever filed against anyone in the Harte family. Johnson County Deputy Tom Erickson has declined to comment on the lawsuit, noting that details about the raid on the Harte home must first play out in court.
The armed agents who raided the Kansas home reportedly told the Harte’s that they had been under surveillance for several months. The Leawood couple does not believe there was any basis for engaging in surveillance of their home. The Hartes also steadfastly feel that facts which would have supported probable cause for a drug raid would not have materialized from any surveillance. The search took more than two hours to complete. During that time the children were supervised while sitting on the couch and Robert Harte was on the floor with his hands behind his back and an armed agent above him.
Robert Harte and his son began building the basement hydroponic garden a few years ago. The high-power light bulbs often used to grow pot were not used and the family’s monthly electric bill did not fluctuate, yet another indicator that the surveillance claims are suspect. Utility cost changes are sometimes used by law enforcement agencies as an indicator of possible marijuana growing activity.
Both parents endured extensive background checks when working in undisclosed positions at the CIA. Adlynn Harte is currently employed by a financial planning firm. Robert appears to be possibly retired and spends the majority of his time caring for the two children.
The government overreach in this situation is deplorable. While I immensely respect the work law enforcement officers do when putting their lives on the line to protect our communities, the purchase of hydroponics equipment to grow food inside your own home does not constitute probable cause for a search warrant.
Being spotted at the Green Circle hydroponics store is not justification for such an intrusion of privacy. The store owner is understandably displeased with the fact that his customers are being monitored by law enforcement agencies. During an interview with Action News 41, the Green Circle owner noted that we do not live in a communist country—yet. A phone call from a deputy that Robert Harte was seen leaving the store with a small bag of merchandise reportedly set off a three-day search through the family’s trash. According to case documents, during the final two weeks of the trash review, leaves and stems which allegedly field-tested positive for pot were unearthed. After the Leawood raid, the vegetation was retested in a lab and came up negative for cannabis residue.
My husband and I recently discussed purchasing similar equipment to grow lettuce in our basement over the winter for our rescued tortoises. They will eventually weigh at least 100 pounds each, so avoiding high grocery bills in the winter when they cannot graze outdoors is a very enticing option. Perhaps even though we have squeaky clean records and have served our community in a multitude of positions, both elected and volunteer, we would be next on the drug raid hit list. After learning of the Harte’s predicament, I glanced outside to see if Ole’ Glory was still flying in my front yard. A quick look affirmed that I am still living in America, but stories like this unwarranted Kansas drug raid make it feel less and less like I do still reside in the United States every single day.