A couple is suing the local cops and Nationwide Insurance after they were arrested when an insurance agent mistook their hibiscus plants for cannabis.
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The lawsuit, filed on Tuesday by Edward Cramer, 69, and his wife Audrey, 66, claims insurance agent Jonathan Yeamans came to their home in Buffalo Township on October 5 to investigate a fallen tree, reports the Associated Press. The agent took photos of their flowering hibiscus plant, according to the Cramers, and sent those images to police.
Based on the photos, Buffalo Township police Officer Jeffrey Sneddon got a search warrant for the Cramer’s property, according to the lawsuit. The hapless Sneddon claimed he “had expertise” in identifying marijuana.
The next thing the Cramers knew, a bunch of Buffalo Township Police Department officers with assault rifles swarmed the house, according to the lawsuit. When Audrey opened the front door, about a dozen cops “pointing assault-style rifles at her,” reports the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
After the raid on Oct. 7, officers held the elderly Cramers for four hours inside a police cruiser. Audrey was allegedly only dressed in underwear during the incident, reports the New York Post.
Both of the Cramers, while handcuffed and being treated like criminals, repeatedly tried to explain to the clueless officers that the plants in question were actually hibiscus. Edward over and over said the plants were hibiscus and tried pointing out the flowers that were obviously blooming on them.
“I was not treated as though I was a human being,” Audrey told WPXI. “I asked them again if I could put pants on and he told me no and I had to stand out on the porch.”
The cops walked her down the gravel driveway, barefoot, to a “very hot” police car where she was left for four and a half hours. Edward Cramer arrived 30 minutes later, finding his wife handcuffed in the police cruiser and cops searching his home.
“Sometimes I think they look for a crime where it doesn’t exist in order to justify their existence,” said Edward Cramer.
During the ordeal, Sgt. Scott Hess said he didn’t believe the plants were marijuana, according to the Cramers. But he confiscated them anyway, labeling them “tall, green, leafy, suspected marijuana plants.”
“Why couldn’t the police see what it was,” said Al Lindsay, the Cramers’ attorney. “Being arrested, for people like this who have no history with crime and no experience with law enforcement, this is an incredibly traumatic experience. I cannot understand the frame of reference that was on these police officers’ minds, what were they thinking”
Both Cramers are still receiving medical care, according to Lindsay. Edward Cramer has seen a trauma therapist.
“I don’t sleep at night,” Audrey said. “And you don’t leave me at the house by myself.”
The couple said they never even got an apology.
The Cramers were not charged. They are now seeking monetary and compensatory damages, along with court costs. The couple alleges excessive force, false arrest, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress and invasion of privacy in their lawsuit. The suit names Nationwide, agent Yeamans, Buffalo Township, and three police officers.
Nationwide on Oct. 26 sent the Cramers a “policy notification” letter claiming to have found marijuana on their property. The letter demanded they remove the supposed cannabis plants, or their policy would be canceled.
“Nationwide is not in a position to discuss the matter at this time,” company spokesman David Gilligan told the Tribune-Review.
Buffalo Township police did not return a request for a comment.