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Saturday, March 9, 2024

Audrey and Edward Cramer: Victims of a Bungled Marijuana Raid

     Although they didn't know it, the nightmare for Audrey and Edward Cramer began in September 2017 when a tree in their neighbor's yard came down. The couple resided in Buffalo Township, a Butler County, Pennsylvania community about 35 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. Edward Cramer was 69 and his wife Audrey 66. They had never been in trouble with the law or had any experience with the police. They were good law abiding citizens, the kind of people who trusted and supported law enforcement.

     On October 5, 2017 Jonathan Yeamans with the Nationwide Mutual Insurance company came to investigate the neighbor's fallen tree claim. In so doing he saw in the Cramer backyard what he believed to be budding marijuana plants. In reality the insurance adjuster was looking at Hibiscus plants. Thinking that he had stumbled upon a marijuana pot growing operation Mr. Yeamans surreptitiously took photographs of the plants and turned them over to the Buffalo Township Police Department.

     Armed with the photographs of the Cramer Hibiscus plants, Buffalo Township police officer Jeffrey Sneddon acquired a warrant to search the Cramer house and property for evidence of marijuana. Apparently officer Sneddon didn't visit the neighbor's house to look at the Cramer plants himself. If he did, he had no experience in drug investigation and no business obtaining a warrant to search someone's dwelling for drugs.

     At noon on October 7, 2017 a drug raiding squad made up of twelve officers armed with assault rifles, showed up at the Cramer house. Audrey Cramer was home alone on the second floor in her underwear and bare feet. Without getting dressed she responded to loud knocking on her door and the voice of a man identifying himself as the police.

     When Audrey Cramer, who had absolutely no reason to expect a SWAT team on her front porch, opened the door she encountered twelve assault rifles pointed at her head. If she had panicked and made what police officers interpret as a furtive move she could have been shot dead.

     Sergeant Scott Hess, the leader of the raiding party, ordered Audrey Cramer to put her hands in the air. "I have a search warrant," he said. The stunned Mrs. Cramer asked if she could see the warrant. Instead of showing her the document Sergeant Hess ordered the partially clothed resident to wait on her front porch while he searched the second floor of her house. When he returned ten minutes later Sergeant Hess placed Mrs. Cramer under arrest, advised her of her Miranda rights and handcuffed her behind her back.

     After being denied the chance to put on a pair of pants and shoes, an officer marched the handcuffed women, in her underwear and no shoes, down her gravel driveway to a police car.

     As the drug raiders ransacked the Cramer house looking for marijuana, Mrs. Cramer, on a 82 degree day, sat in the hot patrol car. When she asked an officer what was going on he told her they were looking for marijuana.

    Mrs. Cramer had been sitting in the hot patrol car two hours when her husband Edward returned home. Officers, with assault rifles pointed at his head, pulled Mr. Cramer out of his car, placed him into handcuffs and sat him in the police car with his handcuffed, partially clad wife. At this point it was impossible to image what was going on in the minds of these helpless, confused and innocent people.

     When under arrest in the police car Mr. Cramer repeatedly asked for the chance to show the officers that what they though was marijuana was really flowering hibiscus plants. His offer fell on deaf ears.

     Four and a half hours after the police stormed the Cramer home looking for marijuana the Cramers were un-handcuffed and removed from the police car. They were told they would not be charged with any crime. The officers had seized the hibiscus plants even though Sergeant Hess acknowledged they were not marijuana. He labeled the fruits of the bungled raid as "tall, green, leafy suspected marijuana plants." Following this mind-boggling fiasco the police left the scene as abruptly as they had arrived, and without an apology.

     On October 26, 2017, Mr. and Mrs. Cramer received a letter from Nationwide Insurance informing them that marijuana had been found on their property, and if they didn't remove it, they would lose their insurance policy.

     Attorney Al Lindsay, on behalf of the Cramers, filed a lawsuit against the Buffalo Township Police and the Nationwide Insurance company. The suit charged the police with excessive force, false arrest, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional stress and invasion of privacy. The plaintiffs asked for monetary and compensatory damages.

     On November 19, 2017, Audrey and Edward Cramer gave an interview to a reporter with a Pittsburgh television station. Mrs. Cramer said, "I was not treated as a human being. I was just something they were going to push aside. I asked them if I could put pants on and he [Sergeant Hess] told me no and I had to stand out on the porch." Regarding how the experience had affected her, she said, "I don't sleep at night and you don't leave me at the house by myself."

     Edward Cramer had this to say about the horribly bungled raid: "Sometimes I think they [the police] look for a crime where it doesn't exist in order to justify their existence."
     In June 2018 the defendants in the Cramer lawsuits settled with the couple for an undisclosed amount.

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