Last Wednesday, Georgia retiree Dwayne Perry woke up to the sound of a low-flying chopper hovering above his home. Then, armed officers appeared at his door with a K-9 in tow. Perry told WSB-TV 2, “I was scared actually, at first, because I didn’t know what was happening.”
Investigators were apparently conducting aerial sweeps of the area to look for cannabis plants and mistook Perry’s okra garden for a marijuana grow operation. Possession of cannabis remains illegal in Georgia. “Here I am, at home and retired and, you know, I do the right thing. Then, they come to my house strapped with weapons for no reason. It ain’t right,” said Perry.
Okra is a plant with edible seed pods that are often an ingredient in many southern staple dishes, including gumbo. It is commonly grown in gardens and on farms throughout the south and across the state of Georgia. When WSB-TV 2 asked Georgia State Patrol Captain Kermit Stokes how the mistake could have been made, he sent a sample photograph of the okra and replied, “We’ve not been able to identify it as of yet. But it did have quite a number of characteristics that were similar to a cannabis plant.” Okra plants have five leaves, unlike cannabis plants which have seven.
After officers failed to find marijuana on the property, they apologized to Perry. However, the innocent retiree worries that his reputation in the community might have been affected. Perry, who lives in Cartersville, says he has been receiving constant calls from friends and neighbors asking why such an overwhelming police presence conducted a raid on his home.
In the 1989 case Florida v Riley, the US Supreme Court ruled that police do not need to obtain a warrant or probable cause before conducting random helicopter flyovers above private property to search for marijuana. As police departments across the country begin acquiring unmanned surveillance drones with the capability to capture images in much greater detail than what would be possible with the naked eye, new questions are being raised as to what homeowners should consider a reasonable expectation of privacy. California is currently grappling with this debate, as Governor Jerry Brown recently vetoed a bill that would have required officers to obtain a warrant before using a drone to spy on a homeowner’s property.
In related news, Ben Swann recently released a new Truth in Media episode on medical cannabis. Watch it in the player, embedded below.