Policing for Profit: Facts About the Botany Bay Raid, Lexington Kentucky
On August 15th, around noon, the Lexington police department stormed into The Botany Bay with about 10 officers to conduct a seizure that was triggered by certain products the government claims are illegal.
Only one officer was in uniform. The others were in plain clothes or decked out in SWAT gear. They refused to show identification to witnesses. When one witness asked how he would know they were police officers, he was told, "You don't."
The shop was open for business. No employee or customer was armed or the least bit dangerous. Here are some facts:
1. There is a state law that is pretty fuzzy. It lists several specific compounds as illegal, then basically says, "and whatever else we decide." This is completely unconstitutional as no one can possibly comply with "whatever we decide."
2. The owner of this business has worked diligently and spent thousands of dollars to comply with the law. The law is clear regarding intent. But when the police were presented with evidence of the business owner's good faith attempts to comply with the law, the cops ignored that and continued to loot and pillage.
3. The police and media lied in their coverage, saying that "many things were found that were illegal." Since no one was arrested, this is clearly a fabrication. It appears to have been done for the sake of good PR for the police rather than in the interest of truth.
4. The employees were all given citations when the law is clear that the responsibility party is the owner. Employees are not accountable. Since these citations will be dismissed, it would appear they were issued simply to add to the business owner's legal expense. Although detained in handcuffs for several hours during the raid, as well as questioned and searched, no one was ever actually arrested. Only citations were issued.
5. There was a broad search warrant issued. Still many things were taken from the business that were NOT listed, including legal herbs, detoxification products, the modem and router, the cash counter from the office... the list goes on. Most of the things that were taken have been legally sold by The Botany Bay for years.
6. The search warrant certainly did not call for the destruction of approximately $50,000 worth of merchandise, before any of this could come to court.
7. The Botany Bay has never sold the dreaded "bath salts" or anything else the owner has researched and deemed to be of questionable safety. No one has ever been harmed by any product sold at The Botany Bay.
8. This story is really not about the products in question, at all. It is about the fourth amendment protection against "unreasonalbe search and seizure." We need a public discussion of what is deemed to be reasonable. We just can't believe any U.S. citizen would call this reasonable when two uniformed officers could have calmly walked in with a warrant, had a conversation about anything in question, and removed items deemed illegal. Instead, about 10 officers stormed the open business, handcuffed the employees and customers, and proceeded to wipe the store out of inventory, destroying much of it in the process.
9. The Botany Bay has been a respectable, licensed business for more than 16 years now. If their products have been legal all this time, why come in and violently proclaim that now, somehow, they aren't?
10. The Kentucky Constitution has protection against the arbitrary application of law. Without shaking down just about every retail outlet in the Commonwealth that sells items which could be used in the wrong manner, this aspect of the owner's rights is not being upheld.
11. This business suffered a similar incident last year. The employees, terrified by a SWAT with drawn weapons, were unfortunately bullied into consenting to searches of their cars and homes. Without benefit of legal counsel or a search warrant. These searches were conducted solely under the influence of terror. Those searches turned up a small amount of pot and plants, most of which was decriminalized two months later by the Kentucky General Assembly.
The government was pressing the harshest penalties possible on these young guys and they were terrified.
How this usually works is as follows: government throws the book at you, then gives you the opportunity to either plead guilty to a lesser offense, resulting in minimal jail time and probation, or you can take your chances in court, which most people cannot afford.
Instead of this normal scenario, however, in the case of The Botany Bay, the government refused to negotiate with the young guys unless the business owner plead guilty to something she didn't do. Although the government didn't have anything to pin on her, they were desperate to have something stick because they had broken all the merchandise and vandalized her store. Without a "conviction", they'd be liable. They used the prospect of her young employees going to jail as the bargaining chip: either she pled guity to something or they go to jail.
The owner capitulated on possession and took the fall to save her emplyees. Although a misdemeanor with a $100 fine, part of the plea required that she relinquish all of the stolen merchandise from her shop, at a cost of about $70,000. Throw in the cost of all the attorneys for her and her employees, which she paid, plus the loss of business while it was closed for repairs, and the cost was close to $100,000 that time.
12. Ginny is not wealthy and her assets are in the merchandise she carries. Last time, the first thing the police did was tear down her open sign, smash it on the floor, breaking it, and declaring they were there to shut down the business. This time, as the police were leaving, they were bragging that they got another $100,000 out of the shop. The goal is obviously to bankrupt her and put her out of business.
13. Ginny has been an outspoken advocate for her industry in our state and nationally. She is an avid liberty supporter and has donated much of her profits to advancing the cause of liberty. She has definitely ruffled feathers in the state capitol. Many of us wonder if this is the motivation to close her down: to shut her up and remove her influence on the political process.
14. If the items that were seized were indeed illegal, why were a lot of the same items left on the shelves? The police filled two trucks with more than 40 boxes of merchandise, including vaporizers, pipes, waterpipes, etc. But they left behind enough of the exact same items that the business was almost fully stocked from their supply in the back room and open again within three days. Again: if those items were dangerous and illegal, why not take them all?
15. The police did no inventory of what they took, nor did they mark the boxes as they removed them. They took unopened boxes of new merchandise from the back, without knowing what was in them. They took empty boxes, raked glass merchandise off the shelves, then smashed heavier items on top to intentionally break the inventory.
16. No one was present when the safe was emptied out. No count of money was made and, of course, no inventory was taken of anything, much less cash. Who knows what was in there and how much of that made it to evidence?
17. The first thing the police did was rip out the DVR and disable the security cameras in the shop. They even took the modem and router from the office. Apparently, this was to be sure that no video recording would be available to show their behavior.
18. When questioned out front by friends of the owner on their handling of fragile merchandise, the police claimed that they didn't think they had broken anything (while shoving boxes full of tinkling glass merchandise into the back of an open bed truck). The four employees inside, however, tell a different tale of intentional destruction of property. The cops just used their arms to rake glass merchandise from the shelves, then found heavy non-glass things to smash on top.
19. Ginny is the young widow of a Gulf War veteran and a homeschooling mother. She supports her mom and three nephews as well, making their house payments and paying the utilities to keep them off the dole. Without this business, it would be very hard for her to maintain her life.
20. Ginny's motivations in business are to make enough money to support her extended family and to employ as many people as possible. Is this really a reasonable way to deal with a disagreement in her product line? What is the proper role of government, and what is proper behavior for policing people?