In August 2011, a Missouri state trooper saw Robert Harte walking out of a Kansas City hydroponics store with a bag.
The trooper passed that "tip" along to investigators at the Johnson County Sheriff's Office, and eight months later, deputies with assault rifles and SWAT gear raided the man's home. Robert, his wife Adlynn, and the couple's 7- and 13-year-old children were held at gunpoint for two and a half hours while deputies conducted an ultimately fruitless search for marijuana.
The Hartes filed a civil rights lawsuit, but on Dec. 18, a federal judge in Kansas ruled police had probable cause to search their home because deputies had rummaged through the family's trash and field-tested discarded tea leaves that were mistaken for marijuana, the Kansas City Star reported.
Deputies searched the family's trash three times, and in two trash bags, they found what they described as a "leafy green substance" that turned out to be residue from tea bags, despite a field test that showed the presence of marijuana.
The libertarian publication Reason notes that such field tests can register false positives up to 70 percent of the time, and innocuous herbs like cinnamon leaf, vanilla, lemon grass and basil can all trigger a positive result for marijuana.
Police sent the alleged marijuana to a forensic lab, and 10 days after the raid, the report came back negative. The tea leaves pulled from the Hartes' trash bags do "not look anything like marijuana leaves or stems,” the lab report said.
As for Robert's legal purchases from a hydroponics store, those turned out to be home gardening equipment to grow tomato, squash and melon plants as part of his home-schooled older son's science project, Reason reported.
Despite that, the judge ruled, deputies were within their rights and followed the law when they raided the home.
Robert and Adlynn, both former CIA employees, told KCTV they were at a loss to explain why heavily armed police were raiding their home.
"We had no idea why they were here," Robert said. "We had nothing in our past that would have given them probable cause to terrorize our family. We had no idea what was going on."
One deputy told Robert that his family had been under surveillance for months. Robert said his children were terrified as they were brought into the family's foyer and held at gunpoint next to their mother and father.
"We've got young kids we're trying to teach about right and wrong," Adlynn said. "They had to sit here and watch all of this go on. And we had to try to explain to them why this happened. And we didn't have a good explanation."