Couple Sues After Police Allegedly Mistake Hibiscus Plants For Pot

By Kelly Burch 11/21/17

A secret photo taken by the couple's insurance agent led to the unnecessary drug raid.

a woman's hands holding a red hibiscus plant

When Audrey Cramer opened her front door in Buffalo Township, Pennsylvania in early October she never expected to see police with their weapons drawn showing her a search warrant. However, that’s exactly what happened, after Cramer’s insurance company allegedly mistook her hibiscus plants for marijuana and alerted local authorities. 

The misunderstanding led to Cramer, 66, and her husband Edward Cramer, 69, to be held in a police car for hours while police searched their house for pot, which they never found. Audrey Cramer was reportedly only wearing her underwear at the time and wasn’t allowed to get more appropriate clothing. 

“I was not treated as though I was a human being, I was just something they were going to push aside,” Audrey told WPXI. “I asked them again if I could put pants on and he told me no and I had to stand out on the porch.”

Now the Cramers are suing both Buffalo Township and Nationwide Insurance, alleging excessive force, false arrest, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress and invasion of privacy, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The lawsuit also names a specific insurance agent and three police officers. 

According to the lawsuit, the Cramers filed an insurance claim after a tree fell on their property. An insurance agent came to the home to assess the claim and spotted hibiscus plants in the backyard. He reportedly believed the flowering plants with large green leaves were marijuana and took photos to send to the local police station. 

Two days later the police arrived at the Cramers’ home with a search warrant and arrested Audrey Cramer. When her husband arrived an hour and a half later he was also arrested. Their hibiscus plants were seized. 

Although the Cramers were not charged their attorney said that they are still dealing with consequences from the day. 

“Why couldn't the police see what it was?” Al Lindsay told the Review-Tribune. “Being arrested, for people like this who have no history with crime and no experience with law enforcement, this is an incredibly traumatic experience.”

Audrey Cramer told WPXI that the event still haunts her. "I don't sleep at night,” she said. “And you don't leave me at the house by myself.”

The suit alleges that the insurance agent invaded the Cramers’ privacy by going to police, and also that the officers involved should have been able to immediately tell that the plants were not cannabis. 

"I cannot understand the frame of reference that was on these police officers’ minds, what were they thinking,” said Lindsay. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.