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A SWAT team broke through the gates of a small Arlington, Texas farm and led a massive 10-hour search of the property. The residents were handcuffed and held at gunpoint while they watched more than 10 tons of their property hauled off in trucks.
What dangerous contraband required this massive governmental response? It wasn’t illegal explosives, stolen vehicles or drugs, but rather organic blackberry bushes, okra plants, and sunflowers.
The Garden of Eden is a 3.5-acre farm that promotes a sustainable lifestyle. Back in February, Arlington started complaining about possible city code violations. Officials said that the grass was too tall, bushes were too close to the street, and chopped wood wasn’t stacked in a government-approved manner. Basically, HOA-style complaints where no homeowners’ association exists.
The farm owners said they had corrected some of the issues and challenged others, requesting meetings with the city to work out an amicable agreement. Early the morning of August 2, the government responded with the SWAT raid. Officers carried search warrants alleging that the farm might be growing marijuana, but none was found. The search warrant, signed the day before the raid, gave police the pretext to enforce the city’s “code violations” on private property.
"They came here under the guise that we were doing a drug trafficking, marijuana-growing operation," owner Shellie Smith said. "They destroyed everything." She said that officers shielded their nametags so they couldn't be identified and didn’t produce a warrant until two hours after the raid started.
City agents destroyed “7 blackberry bushes, 15 okra plants, 14 tomatillo plants, numerous native grasses and sunflowers which provided food and bedding for animals, and essential material for building projects and provided cool and shade for crops that would otherwise be dead due to the intense summer heat.”
They hauled off furniture, wooden pallets, food — even compost. They cut down a patch of sweet potatoes with a weed whacker and got rid of other “weeds” used to shade plants during the hot Texas summer.
The police arrested resident Quinn Eaker for unrelated traffic violations. "I think every single right we have was violated," he said. "Every single one."
City of Arlington spokeswoman Sana Syed said the raid was perfectly legal and appropriate. "The purpose was to improve the quality of life, to resolve safety issues within neighborhoods and to hold the property owner responsible for creating blight conditions on their property," she stated.
Smith strongly disagrees. "We want an apology," Smith said. "This will not end here."
Follow Jon on Twitter at @ExJon.