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New Mexico Couple Still Seeking Apology After Police Raid


November 1995

A husband and wife from New Mexico say they will continue to seek an apology from the federal and state agencies that raided their home in 1991 looking for marijuana (Andrew Schneider [Scripps Howard News Service], "New Mexico Couple 'Still Angry' Over Bogus Raid, Lack of Apology," Rocky Mountain News, September 14, 1995, p. 1A).

85 police officers and soldiers from the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, the Forest Service, and the New Mexico National Guard raided their remote farm in Mountainair in September 1991. The officers believed they would find a major marijuana-growing operation, but they did not find any drugs.

When the agents swarmed onto the property in the early morning of September 4, 1991, Leland Elder and Mary Shultz were having their morning coffee. Sina Brush and her 15-year-old daughter, who rented a trailer from Elder and Schultz, were pulled from their beds and handcuffed.

The search warrant was based on false information or misconstrued intelligence. An informer told police that there was a major growing operation on the property that was protected by armed guards. The Customs Service flew over the area with a thermal imaging device and reported above-average heat coming from he buildings. The report failed to note that equal amounts of heat were coming from their neighbors' houses. The search warrant also mentioned that black rubber hoses were seen all over the property, indicating an irrigation system. The hoses in fact delivered water to Elders' Russian olive trees. Agents also mistook Maximillian Daisies, also known as New Mexico sunflowers, for "marijuana-like plants" they reported seeing on the site. Other plants that were said to be "suspicious" were in fact geraniums and marigolds.

"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," said Schultz. Although the couple sent more than a dozen letters asking for an apology, they did not receive one.

To get the attention of the government, they sued for $1 million, but the case was thrown out because the agencies are immune from prosecution. The judge said that unless they could identify individuals involved in the raid, which they could not, then they had no recourse. Sina Brush and her daughter also sued for $1 million and their lawsuit was similarly blocked. They were paid $5000 in an agreement not to sue the New Mexico National Guard.

"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 guess we should be glad to be alive," said Leland Elder.