BUFFALO TOWNSHIP (KDKA) — A Buffalo Township couple says they were handcuffed and placed in a police cruiser for hours while police searched their property after an insurance agent mistook the couple’s hibiscus plant for marijuana.
The incident started back in September when a large tree from neighboring property fell onto the side of Edward and Audrey Cramer’s home, causing damage to the house and an antique garden tractor.
A press release alleges that when the Cramers’ insurance agent, Jonathan Yeamans, arrived at the home to assess the damage, Yeamans took photos of flowering hibiscus plants in their backyard and sent the photos to police, believing the plant was marijuana. The Buffalo Township Police Department then obtained a search warrant.
Police officers arrived at the Cramers’ home on Oct. 7 to search their property. Audrey, 66, was home alone at the time, and she says she answered the door wearing only a bra, a short top and underpants.
Officers allegedly pointed assault rifles at Audrey, told her to get her hands up and entered her home after informing her they had a search warrant, although they did not show it to her.
Audrey was allegedly handcuffed, placed under arrest and put in the back of a police cruiser, and she says officers refused her requests to put on pants and shoes.
“I didn’t want too many people to know what had happened because I really don’t like being stood outside in my underwear,” Audrey said.
When Audrey asked police what was going on, they told her they were searching for marijuana. Audrey says she told them it was hibiscus, but police said her husband lied to her about the plants.
According to the press release, Edward arrived home about half an hour after police began searching the Cramers’ property. Police allegedly pointed their guns at him, searched him and placed him under arrest. He was then handcuffed and put in the back of the squad car with his wife.
Edward says he repeatedly asked officers if he could show them that the hibiscus plants were not marijuana.
“They actually ignored me,” Edward said. “They wouldn’t even listen. I said, ‘I can show you pictures on the internet.'”
The Cramers say they were allowed back into their home without handcuffs after spending about four hours in the police cruiser. Officers had searched their property and Sergeant Scott Hess told them he didn’t think the hibiscus plants were marijuana.
The press release says the Cramers had to repair damage to their home caused while police were searching, and their insurance company sent them a policy notification letter almost three weeks after the incident claiming that marijuana had been found on their property and their insurance policy would be canceled if the plants were not removed.
The Cramers also say they’ve suffered emotional distress from the incident.
“I don’t sleep at night, and you don’t leave me at the house by myself,” Audrey said.
Attorney Al Lindsay filed suit on behalf of the Cramers on Thursday.
“By what logic [can police officers] take a 66-year-old woman like this lady in her underwear outside, place her under arrest, keep her cooped up in the back of a police car for four and a half hours?” Lindsay said.
The Cramers say they have lost their faith in police.
“I’m starting to understand why a lot of the public do not trust the police officers,” Audrey said. “I’m starting to see a lot on TV where I thought, ‘No, you have to be wrong because the police wouldn’t make such a bad mistake.’ Yeah, they would.”
The Cramers are suing Buffalo Township Police, Yeamans and Nationwide Insurance. So far, none of them have commented.