Elderly Couple Wrongfully Arrested When Their Hibiscus Plants Were Mistaken for Marijuana
By Bowen Xiao
November 17, 2017 2:29 pm
An elderly couple from Buffalo Township in Pennsylvania was wrongly arrested for allegedly having marijuana plants on their property. Their Nationwide insurance agent reported them to the police.
Audrey and Edward Cramer said that on Sept. 20 police stormed their home, harassed them, took their plants, and arrested them while Audrey, was still partially undressed according to NBC affiliate WLWT.
But the dilemma for the police was that the plants were flowering hibiscus plants—not marijuana.
“I’m starting to understand why a lot of the public do not trust police officers,” Audrey Cramer said at a press conference. “I really feel like I’ve been smacked in the face with this, and no, I don’t think I’ll ever trust a police officer again.”
The couple filed a civil lawsuit on Thursday, Nov. 16, against Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co., Nationwide agent Jonathan Yeamans, Buffalo Township, and three of its police officers, according to Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
In the lawsuit Edward, 69 and Audrey, 66 claim that police handcuffed the two and forced them to sit in the back of a police car for hours.
During that time, officers ransacked their home looking for the alleged marijuana, which was nonexistent. The Cramers were not charged in the incident.
The couple’s allegations include the use of excessive force, false arrest, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and invasion of privacy, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported.
As of writing on Friday, Nov. 17, Buffalo Township has not responded to requests for comments.
The Cramers’ attorney Al Lindsay said they are seeking punitive damages.
“She came down. She opened the door. She was confronted with what she thought was a dozen police officers with assault weapons who said they had a warrant,” Lindsay told reporters at a press conference. “They pushed her. They went through the house,” WLWT reports.
The whole incident first started when a neighbor’s tree fell on the couple’s property back in September. That caused insurance agent Yeamans to come out on Oct. 5 to investigate the insurance claim.
But according to the lawsuit, Yeamans took photos of the flowering hibiscus plants growing in the couple’s backyard and sent them to police, claiming it was a marijuana operation.
The couple said Yeamans “intentionally photographed the flowering hibiscus plants in such a manner as not to reveal that they had flowers on them so that they would appear to resemble marijuana plants,” according to the complaint, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported.
The suit states the wife explained to police that the plants were flowering hibiscus plants, but Sgt. Scott Hes—claiming expertise—insisted that they were marijuana plants.
Edward also repeatedly asked to show police that the plants were flowering and clearly in bloom, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported.
“Why couldn’t the police see what it was?” attorney Lindsay commented to the newspaper. “Being arrested, for people like this who have no history with crime and no experience with law enforcement, this is an incredibly traumatic experience.”
After the long search and without finding any marijuana, police eventually released the Cramers from the police car.
The couple is seeking “monetary and compensatory damages,” attorneys’ fees plus court costs. They are seeking a jury trial, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.