In September 1991, 85 agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, the Forest Service, and the New Mexico National Guard conducted a massive early morning raid on the rural farm owned by retired florist Leland Elder and his wife Mary Schultz. Guard troops, cops, and federal agents wore camouflage face paint and steel helmets, and brought a tank and a helicopter as they stormed the property, the couple were eventually surrounded in their home by six heavily armed men, handcuffed, and thrown to the ground. The couple told Scripps-Howard that the government officials kept screaming, "Tell us where the drugs are!" Tell us where the drugs are!"
The raid also hit a trailer that the couple rented to Sina Brush and her 15-year-old daughter. The two women were rousted from bed and tossed to the floor at gunpoint.
Schultz, who was treated for depression and anxiety after the raid, told Scripps-Howard, ""We are innocent victims in the war on drugs. As law enforcement changes from a 'Lets talk about it' philosophy to a Delta force, invade first program there will be many more innocent people swept up in these raids."
Customs had flown over the couple's property with thermal energy detecting equipment and found "above average" heat emanating from buildings on the farm. But the agents didn't note that other houses in the area were giving off the same sort of heat. The agents described hoses the family used to water olive trees as a marijuana irrigation system. They also mistook sunflowers, geraniums and marigolds for "marijuana-like plants."
The raid turned up nothing illegal. In the ensuing months, the couple sent out letters to all the agencies involved asking not for compensation, but only for an apology. Mary Schultz told Scripps-Howard, "We just wanted the government to admit it was wrong--to understand that care must be used before armed troops are sent into the homes of its citizens."
They never got one. So they filed a lawsuit. It was tossed out of court because the agencies were protected by sovereign immunity. The couldn't sue any of the agents individually, because they all refused to give the couple their name. When the couple appealed, the New Mexico National Guard finally paid them $5,000 to drop the suit in 1995.
Said Schultz, after the settlement: "We're still angry as hell and hurt that our government can do this, but after what happened at Ruby Ridge and in Waco, I quess we should be glad to be alive."
(The "Raid of the Day" features accounts of police raids I've found, researched, and reported while writing my forthcoming book Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces. It's due out in July, but you can pre-order it here.)
Source: Andrew Schneider, "New Mexico Couple 'Still Angry' Over Bogus Raid, Lack of Apology," Scripps-Howard News Service, September 14, 1995..