In Colorado, adults can now legally grow marijuana. In Arlington, growing marijuana is reason enough for the SWAT team to raid one's home. Two years ago, officers stormed a hippie commune called the Garden of Eden early in the morning on a no-knock warrant. The Garden of Eden, which we profiled in a 2013 cover story, is home to longtime resident Shellie Smith and relative newcomers Quinn Eaker and Inok Alrutz. They practice a type of sustainable, environmentally friendly gardening called permaculture, which involves having tall grass and composting toilets, among other features that earned them lots of code violations.
But the search warrant from Detective M. Perez claimed something much more sinister than code violations was there — an alleged stash of marijuana growing among some bamboo plants, also some rifles. Perez wrote in the search warrant that she got that information from an unnamed source. The city was so concerned that it flew manned aircraft over the property to look for the drugs, Perez's warrant claimed. The fact that the Garden of Eden website advertised itself as having "uber dank" food also raised Perez's suspicions. The detective added in the search warrant that she "has good reason to believe and does believe" that one of the garden's residents, Quinn Eaker, possessed weed in July 2013.
The problem with that warrant is that Eaker had never been arrested or cited for weed possession, as Arlington police later clarified to us shortly after the raid. And the SWAT team's drug bust turned out to be an embarrassment, when they failed to find any weed. Code enforcement later came to the property to "abate" numerous code violations the property had, including actual weeds. Last year, Arlington put homeowner Shellie Smith on trial for the code violations, without allowing her to introduce any evidence about the failed SWAT raid. A jury found her guilty.
But Smith has not paid the estimated $2,400 fine from that conviction, she says, and instead she and others at the home at the time have filed a federal lawsuit against Arlington this month, nearly two years after the raid. "I was asked if I had any 'marijuana or drugs' on me, which I replied that I did not," says Robert Kinney, a man who was visiting the garden as a guest at the time, in an affidavit recounting the raid. "...At this point I began to just observe the movement and the intensity of the actions of the officers. They seemed to be in a way super-excited state and weren't really able to hear. Just a lot of shouting and fear in their voices." Eight adults were detained as SWAT searched the property.
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The lawsuit, filed July 1, focuses on the search warrant penned by Detective Perez and her claims that Eaker possessed drugs. Perez got specific in the warrant, claiming that "on or about July 30, 2013, in the City of Arlington ... QUINN EAKER ... did then and there commit the offense of POSSESSION OF MARIJUANA UNDER TWO OUNCES, a MISDEMEANOR."
But without any criminal conviction or citation for that alleged misdemeanor, her search warrant has no basis, Eaker argues in the suit. "Perez states no basis for her belief that Quinn Eaker possessed marijuana on or about July 30, 2013, rendering this statement mere ipse dixit and no basis for probable cause."
The city has another 45 days to answer the suit, Arlington Assistant City Attorney Melinda Barlow estimates. "The fact that no drugs were recovered on a warrant does not indicate that the warrant was not valid," says Barlow. She otherwise said she could not comment on pending litigation.