It was 7:30 on the morning of April 20, 2012 when Bob Harte heard a knock on the door. He got out of bed and answered the door while his wife and two kids slept. What he found was the Johnson County, Kansas SWAT team ready to drive a battering ram through his front door.
The militarized local police streamed into his house, screaming “Where are the children in the home?” The deputies got everyone up and then searched the family’s sofa, saying they were looking for “narcotics.” After the couch was cleared, the family was ordered to sit there for two hours while the entire house was searched, according to an investigative report by news station KSHB.
Harte asked about a warrant and was told they didn’t need to show him the warrant until the end of the raid. At the end, they did show the warrant and it said that the raid was not successful; that they had found nothing illegal in the home.
Harte took the warrant showing that nothing was found around to his neighbors, trying to clear his family’s name and explain that the raid was a mistake. And he tried to obtain county
records to try to find out why the raid took place. But when he asked for the records he was told that Kansas law prohibited him from accessing the public records. Frustrated, the Hartes decided to hire an attorney to clear their name and get to the bottom of why their house was raided.
An attorney was able to obtain the police records. They showed that Harte was seen in Kansas City by a Missouri cop making a purchase at a hydroponics store and then riding off with his kids in a KIA. This, Harte explained, was something he purchased with his son for a school project — they made an indoor garden for a science class. And then, on two occasions local police had rooted through the family’s garbage to find wet leaves. Once, in a field test, one of the batches of wet leaves tested positive for marijuana, according to the records. The purchase at the hydroponics store and the discarded leaves were enough for a warrant and the search.
Upon hearing about the wet leaves, Harte knew what the police had found. “It’s your tea!” it was his wife Addie’s loose tea that the officers had found wet and in the trash.
The records indicated that the police had sent the suspected marijuana leaves to the crime lab after the raid had gone badly and sure enough, the tests returned negative for marijuana. It was loose tea. Field tests are known to be unreliable. That was in May of 2012, a month after the raid.
So the police had planned to sit on that embarrassing mistake, protected by Kansas’s formerly restrictive probable cause affidavit access laws.
“This not what justice in the United States is supposed to be. You shouldn’t have to have $25,000, even $5,000. You shouldn’t have to have that kind of money to find out why people came raiding your house like some sort of police state,” Addie Harte told KSHB.
Kansas lawmakers have since repealed the law allowing probable cause affidavits to be sealed in the manner that closed records to the Hartes.