Police in Buffalo Township, Penn., were looking for marijuana when they raided a home on Oct. 7, taking the female homeowner out of the house without pants after she answered the door.
But there was a hitch. The homeowners weren’t growing pot. They grow hibiscus plants in their backyard.
Edward and Audrey Cramer filed a civil lawsuit last week against the police and Nationwide Insurance Co.
Among their allegations: false arrest, excessive force, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and invasion of privacy.
According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Edward, 69, and Audrey, 66, say they sat in the back of a cop car for hours after they were handcuffed. They also claim police ransacked their home.
They were not charged with a crime.
But the seed of suspicion was planted when Nationwide agent Jonathan Yeamans visited the Cramers’ property two days earlier to inspect damage caused by a neighbor’s fallen tree.
The lawsuit claims Yeamans “surreptitiously” took pictures of the flowering plant growing in the backyard and sent them to police because he thought it was marijuana.
The couple claim that 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.”
The lawsuit charges that Jeffrey Sneddon, a Buffalo Township police officer, used the photos to get a search warrant.
The police apparently arrived at the Cramers’ home around noon on Oct. 7. Audrey said she was partially dressed when she answered the door and found officers with guns pointed at her on her doorstep.
The complaint says that Sgt. Scott Hess told her to put her hands up and that the police had a search warrant.
“Hess entered the home and went upstairs. Upon returning downstairs, he demanded that (Cramer), a 66-year-old woman, be handcuffed behind her back in a state of partial undress,” the lawsuit claims.
“I was not treated as though I was a human being, I was just something they were going to push aside,” she told WPXI in Pittsburgh. “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 complaint alleges that police then walked her down the driveway to the police car where, the lawsuit said, she was left for more than four hours, hands cuffed behind her in a “very hot” car. The high temperature that day reached 82, the Tribune-Review reported.
According to the lawsuit, she tried to explain the plants were hibiscus, but police wouldn’t listen.
Edward said that when he got home about 30 minutes later he found his wife in the back of the police car and cops leveling their guns at him.
He also tried to convince officers the plants were hibiscus as they put him in the squad car, too.
“They actually ignored me,” he said. “They wouldn’t even listen. I said, ‘I can show you pictures on the internet.’”
He tried several times to show police the plants were hibiscus.
“Why couldn’t the police see what it was?” Al Lindsay, the Cramers’ attorney, said 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.”
The lawsuit says police found no marijuana in the home or outdoors.
Lindsay said both Cramers are still receiving medical care and 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.”
They are seeking “monetary and compensatory damages” and a jury trial.
Neither the police nor Nationwide will comment to the media about the lawsuit.