Reading the Tea Leaves in Johnson County
by Mark Steyn • Mar 27, 2014 at 2:46 pm
The IRS Commissioner, a fellow called John Koskinen, is pretty much openly contemptuous of Congress these days, solemnly promising that he'll be able to provide Lois Lerner's emails within two or three years. He's presumably just stonewalling in order that Congressional "oversight" has so little to oversee that through sheer torpor the American people come to accept a systemically corrupt revenue agency that applies its rules according to whether one supports or opposes the party in power. Meanwhile, government harassment of Tea Party supporters and other dissenters continues. US government is corrupt to a degree that government in the other anglophone democracies is not, and this should be a source of great shame to Americans.
~On the other hand, tea-wise, the Johnson County Sheriff's Department is taking it to a whole other level. Two years ago, at 7.30 one April morning, a sleepy Bob Harte staggered to the front door of his home in Leawood, Kansas to answer a knock and found a fully-armed SWAT team outside preparing to use the battering ram. They shoved him to the floor, surrounded him with pointing rifles, and the whole rigmarole began...
When it was, eventually, over, and the home invaders left empty-handed, Bob and Addie Harte were naturally curious as to what they'd done to attract the attentions of the chocolate soldiers of Kansas law enforcement. The Johnson County Sheriff's Department refused to say: There's no sunshine in the Sunflower State, and the latest attempt to let some light in on the dank sewer of Kansas public records died in the legislature on March 25th. So it took a year and 25 grand in legal bills for Mr and Mrs Harte to find out why they and their children were on the receiving end of a paramilitary raid.
Here's what happened:
1) The Hartes' son was working on a science project: growing tomatoes and squash in a hydroponic garden in the basement.
2) So in August 2011 Mr Harte and his kids went to the Green Circle hydroponics store in Kansas City, Missouri to get some supplies.
3) They were seen leaving the store by a Missouri Highway Patrol officer, who noted the license plate.
4) In March 2012, the Missouri Highway Patrol passed on the license-plate information to the Johnson County Sheriff.
5) The Sheriff's Department surreptitiously began going through the Hartes' garbage.
6) After three examinations of the garbage, they showed up at the front door with the battering ram and SWAT team on April 20th.
So what's going on?
The Missouri Highway Patrolman took down the license plate supposedly because hydroponic store supplies are used in the cultivation of indoor marijuana plants. Whatever criminality they suspected Mr Harte of was such a matter of urgency to the Missouri coppers that they sat on the plate number for seven months before passing it on to their Kansas colleagues.
Nevertheless, the Johnson County Sheriff took the matter so seriously that they made three overnight trips to the Hartes' home to extract materials from their garbage. On the first occasion, they found "wet plant material" which they were unable to identify. So, on their two subsequent nocturnal visits, they performed "field tests" on it, and determined it was marijuana. So they ordered in the SWAT team.
A month after the two positive "field tests" and a raid that turned up nothing, the "wet plant material" came back from the real tests at the Johnson County Criminalistics Laboratory, which determined it was not marijuana or any other kind of prohibited substance.
It was loose-leaf tea.
Mrs Harte is not, as Anderson Cooper would say, a teabagger. She prefers her tea loose-leaf. So do millions of people around the world. See the definitive essay on the subject. I happen to be among their number. I'm partial to a nice pot of Darjeeling in late morning, and, more occasionally, a pot of Lapsang Souchong in the afternoon. My daughter is also a loose-leaf gal. I bought her some tea equipment for Christmas (no doubt the store was being staked out by undercover cops) and she takes a cuppa to school in the morning in an attractive mug with an individual tea strainer in the top. Full of "wet plant material".
Almost everything is illegal now in America, especially on the food front. But apparently tea leaves have not joined the ever lengthening list of prohibited items.
Yet they were enough to earn Mr and Mrs Harte and their children a terrifying, traumatic and entirely unnecessary military raid from the Johnson County Sheriff's Department. You put tea in a pot. But that doesn't mean it is pot. This vital distinction is seemingly lost on the zealots of the Johnson County SWAT team. As Jacob Sullum writes at Reason:
And as Laura Rosen Cohen puts it:
She's right. There's too much of this.
~On the other hand, at least the Hartes and their kids are still alive. I've written often about the increasing tendency of American cops to police the citizenry to death - the five-to-seven officers required to kill a 95-year old veteran for refusing to take his medication; the multiple law-enforcement agencies needed to off a confused woman with a baby on board who drove too near King Barack's palace - and who earned the cheers of Congress for so dispatching her. In recent days, a mentally ill homeless man was shot dead for "illegally camping" in the Albuquerque foothills, and at a traffic stop in South Carolina a 70-year old veteran was shot by an officer who thought the man was reaching for a gun. It was his cane.
But don't worry. York County Sheriff Bruce Bryant assured his officer that he "did the right thing". And so he did - by the book.
That's the trouble. In US law-enforcement culture, it's "the right thing" to shoot some senior reaching for his walking stick, and to shoot a mentally confused hobo, and a nonagenarian who doesn't want to take his pills. It would likewise have been "the right thing" to shoot Mr Harte if he'd been a little too slow dropping to the broadloom in Leawood, Kansas. In what circumstances isn't it "the right thing" to shoot the citizenry?
I really don't want my daughter shot for having "wet plant material" in her tea cup. So I would like America's police culture to be de-militarized. That will take some doing.
This subject is much on my mind. Just moments ago, one of my employees had her case dismissed by the court after a small-town cop stopped her for no reason and illegally seized her in violation of her Fourth Amendment rights and much else. She is a placid rural mom who was driving her kids home from school. But it's easy to see how, if she'd been a confused gram'pa or a sullen teen, the illegal seizure could, in a split-second, have escalated into something more fatal. When the police can't visit an assisted-living facility or a homeless man's campfire without leaving a body count, they're doing it wrong.
~Final thought: What a shame all the impressive firepower available for old folks' homes and tea-leaf raids wasn't on hand at, say, the US diplomatic compound in Benghazi.
© 2014 Mark Steyn Enterprises (US) Inc. All rights reserved.
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© 2014 Mark Steyn Enterprises (US) Inc. All rights reserved.