Lead photo via Flickr user Forest and Kim Starr
A couple in Buffalo Township, Pennsylvania is suing their local police department and the Nationwide Insurance Company after a bit of routine yard work lead to a false drug bust. The couple claims the police used excessive force and committed false imprisonment, all spurred by a hibiscus plant and an ill-informed insurance adjuster cosplaying as a narc.
According to the Pittsburgh Tribune, the entire incident started back in September, when a storm brought a neighbor’s tree down onto the property of Audrey and Edward Cramer, ages 66 and 69 respectively. To sort out the damage from the storm, Nationwide Insurance agent Jonathan Yeamans went over to the Cramer’s home and took a look around.
During his routine tree inspection, Yeamans saw a suspicious plant, “surreptitiously” took a photo, and sent it to local police, claiming the senior citizens were growing cannabis. The problem, of course, was that Yeamans had taken a photo of some perfectly legal hibiscus plants.
The local police force didn’t take to Google to compare pics, though, and instead used the insurance agent’s cell phone flick to obtain a search warrant.
In the resulting lawsuit, the Cramers and their lawyer claim that police arrived at their door with weapons drawn to find Audrey half-clothed and bewildered. After screaming about a search warrant but refusing to present one, Mrs. Cramer says that police did not allow her to put on pants before putting her in handcuffs, locking her in the back of a police cruiser, and searching the home and property.
"I was not treated as though I was a human being, I was just something they were going to push aside," Audrey Cramer told WXPI News. “I asked them again if I could put pants on and he told me no and I had to stand out on the porch."
When her husband arrived home a short time later, Mr. Cramer said he too was met with raised weapons, handcuffed, put under arrest, and made to join his wife in the back of the car.
During the commotion, the Cramers repeatedly requested context for their arrest. When they were finally told about their suspected cannabis kingpin status, the couple offered multiple times to help the officers Google hibiscus and correct their glaring mistake.
Eventually, after police found no roaches, crumbs, or paraphernalia in the house or on the property, the couple was released, but still say they were offered no apology or explanation. Even with the mistake staring them right in the face, police officers still confiscated the hibiscus plants and filed them into evidence with the label “tall, green, leafy, suspected marijuana plants.”
Adding insult to injury, three weeks after the botched raid, on October 26th, the Cramers received a letter from Nationwide Insurance claiming to have found marijuana growing on their property, threatening that the company would drop their policy if the cannabis was not removed.
Now, in an effort to right the insurance officer and police department’s wrongs and collect financial compensation for the traumatic experience, the Cramers have filed a lawsuit, alleging a number of crimes, including false arrest, false incarceration, excessive force, and invasion of privacy. The civil lawsuit specifically names Nationwide Insurance rep and amatuer narc Jonathan Yeamans, as well as three Township police officers.
The case is made all the more absurd because, thanks to an uncharacteristically warm East Coast fall, the hibiscus plants in question were actually in bloom at the time of the insurance assessment and raid. The bright flowers look nothing like dank buds.
“Why couldn't the police see what it was?” Al Lindsay, the Cramers' attorney, told the Tribune. “Being arrested, for people like this who have no history with crime and no experience with law enforcement, this is an incredibly traumatic experience.”