A tree fell on Audrey and Edward Cramer’s property in October, prompting their insurance company, Nationwide, to make a trip to their home. The agent, however, took pictures of hibiscus plants sent pictures to police claiming it was cannabis. The couple is now suing the insurance company, the agent, and several Buffalo Township police officers for punitive damages in Butler County Court.
Officers promptly went to their home and detained Audrey, who was not fully dressed, in one of the officers’ cars. The 66-year-old woman says she felt dehumanized.
“I was not treated as though I was a human being,” she said. “I was just something they were going to push aside.“
“She came down. She opened the door. She was confronted with what she thought was a dozen police officers with assault weapons who said they had a warrant,” said Al Lindsay, the couple’s attorney. “They pushed her. They went through the house.” The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review summarized some of the claims the couple made in the suit:
“According to the complaint, Sgt. Scott Hess demanded that Cramer put her hands up and told her that he had a search warrant but would not show it to her.
“Then, ‘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 suit claims Cramer asked if she could put on a pair of pants next to her, and was told ‘in no uncertain terms’ that she could not.”
She was placed under arrest and read her rights.
Edward says that when he got home, police pointed guns at him and arrested him, as well. He tried to explain to the officers that the plants were not cannabis but hibiscus flowers.
“They actually ignored me,” he said. “They wouldn’t even listen. I said, ‘I can show you pictures on the internet.’“
The suit also alleges that the insurance agent who sent pictures to the cops “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.”
Though they were released without charge, Audrey says she was traumatized by the incident.
“I’m starting to understand why a lot of the public do not trust police officers,” Audrey said. “I really feel like I’ve been smacked in the face with this, and no, I don’t think I’ll ever trust a police officer again.“
“I don’t sleep at night, and [Edward doesn’t] leave me at the house by myself,” she added.
Allegations in the suit against Buffalo Township Police, Nationwide Insurance, and the agent who submitted the photos include the use of excessive force, false arrest, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and invasion of privacy.
The police and insurance company have so far declined to comment.