The owners of a small organic farm in South Arlington are demanding an apology from police who raided the property in early August in what amounted to be a fruitless search for marijuana.
Arlington police and city Code Enforcement officers raided the Garden of Eden, a 3.5-acre farm on the 7300 block of Mansfield Cardinal Road on the morning of Aug. 2. Police were searching for marijuana in the gardens, according to search warrants obtained by NBC 5.
Code compliance officers found several reported code violations, but police did not any drugs.
"We live a very peaceful life here,” said 30-year-old Quinn Eaker, a resident of the farm, who was arrested during the raid for an unrelated, outstanding warrant over unpaid parking tickets. “We've never hurt anybody. This is our land. We have the right to be secure in our person and our property. Period. That's undebatable."
Eaker told NBC 5 that the six adults who live at the farm - what they describe as a community that has come together with the common values of freedom, sustainability and consciousness - were handcuffed when SWAT officers from the Arlington Police Department came to their home with weapons drawn.
The handcuffs are standard procedure during the search of suspected narcotics operations, according to Sgt. Christopher Cook of the Arlington Police Department. Tactical officers assisted in the execution of the search warrants to secure the location so narcotics detectives could safely enter the property, police noted in a statement to NBC 5.
Cook added that police removed the handcuffs from the residents of the farm within 30 minutes. Cook said the residents were allowed to go about their daily business while the investigation continued.
Narcotics detectives and members of the tactical unit left the farm within 45 minutes of their arrival, Cook said.
According to a statement posted on the Garden of Eden's website, the raid of the farm lasted for an estimated 10 hours.
Code compliance officers mowed the grass on the property and removed wild, cultivated plants including blackberries and okra, as well as other items including pallets, tires and cardboard that the members said they used for their sustainability projects.
"We had mass amounts of materials taken,” Eaker said. “If you saw the list, it's pages and pages and pages of materials taken. That wasn't junk. That wasn't trash."
According to a search warrant, undercover narcotics officers with Arlington police visited the Garden of Eden to investigate possible criminal activity prior to the raid.
The property owner, Shellie Smith, gave the officers a tour of the property and Eaker spoke with them about gardening techniques and workshops that he conducts on the property, according to the warrant.
In June, an anonymous source provided police with information that Eaker was growing marijuana in a garden that is surrounded by bamboo, the warrant states.
On July 30, a Texas Department of Public Safety aircraft conducted aerial surveillance of the Garden of Eden property, according to the warrant. Based on the investigating officer's experience, and upon review of photographs taken of a garden surrounded by bamboo, the plants inside appeared to be consistent with marijuana, police state in the warrant.
When asked directly if members of their community were growing marijuana, Eaker said, "No."
And when asked why he believes police thought they were growing marijuana, Eaker answered, "I think that they were hoping that that was true. I think they were hoping that was true. And I think that they made a mistake and I think that they know they made a mistake."
Eaker said that the plants police mistook to be marijuana were likely tomatoes.
"They can't even tell the difference between tomato plants and a marijuana drug cartel; that's just really bad intel," Eaker said.
The Garden of Eden farm first came to the attention of city code inspectors in 2011, according to an affidavit for inspection and abatement. At that time two code officers met with the owner, Shellie Smith, about reported violations at the farm, including bagged trash, and various pallets, boards and debris on the property. Smith stated the violations would not be corrected, according to the affidavit.
In 2012, code compliance officers reported, at various times, seeing plastic barrels collecting rain water, broken pianos and other violations on the Garden of Eden property, according to the affidavit.
In early February 2013, a code compliance officer issued a notice to Smith itemizing several reported violations. The affidavit states that during the course of their investigation, officers discovered the farm's website which indicates that a food business is run from the home. And according to investigators, there are no food handler permits on file for the property or its residents.
Following two other documented investigations of the property in May and July, on Aug. 1 inspectors reported seeing several outstanding violations at the property, including high weeds and grass, standing water and structural hazards. Those reported violations prompted the code search warrant and their presence at the raid Aug. 2.
Eaker told NBC 5 he and the members of his community demand an apology from police.
The community wants police to admit they were wrong and to compensate them for the damage caused to their property during the raid.