Mar 14, 2014

Arlington Puts Hippie Garden on Trial for Tall Grass, Shows Jurors a Picture of Poop

GoE's Quinn Eaker. He was kicked out of the courtroom for using his cell phone.
MARCH 14, 2014

It turns out that Arlington, of all places, is home to a sustainable garden/hippie residence called the Garden of Eden. Naturally, Arlington does not approve.

Suspecting that the hippies were growing weed, officials first sent a manned aircraft over the Garden of Eden last year. Undercover officers paid a visit in person. It all hit the fan in August, when a SWAT team stormed the place looking for drugs.

The SWAT team didn't find a single bud. So instead, a bunch of city code enforcement officers showed up later that day. They cited the residents for having tall grass and storing inside furniture outside, among other violations. Code enforcement also mowed the lawn.

The failed drug raid and subsequent lawn-mowing made international news. Arlington's finest became a symbol of what happens when small-town cops try to fight the drug war and lose. (Here's our cover story about it ).

Arlington is pressing forward with the case. The city put property owner Shellie Smith on trial this Thursday for all those code violations she received back in August.

But the city didn't want to bring up that whole failed SWAT thing in front of the jurors. Probably a good idea.

GoE's Smith, representing herself, had wanted to introduce the SWAT raid as evidence. "I would like to prove that the citations were written in dishonor," she asked the judge outside the presence of the jury.

City Attorney Steven Meyer argued that it was a non-issue. What police did that day "had no relevance, no bearing on the defendant's [code] abatement," he said. Judge Stewart Milner sided with the city.

With no exciting SWAT raids or drug allegations to discuss, the city attorney instead showed a group of bored-looking jurors pictures of tall grass, tarp and other code violations for two hours.

"The defendant needs to be reminded that in the city of Arlington, if you have code violations, every property owner needs to abate them," he said.

Code compliance officer Curtis Jones was a star witness for the city.

"Back over here is where you can see some high grass and weeds," Jones testified.

Things got more exciting after lunch, when Meyer showed jurors a close-up, grainy image of a compost toilet seat. He asked Jones to describe it. "Basically a toilet seat, that was outside," Jones said.

"Did you see what was in it?"

Smith objected to the line of questioning.

Meyer stayed fixated on the toilet. He tried rephrasing the question. "If you had to guess, what would you think is in there?"

Smith objected again.

"Generally, if you see a toilet, what would you think was in there?"

"Probably fecal matter," Jones testified.

Next: a random close-up of a piece of poop sitting in the grass.

"This is some fecal matter," Jones explained.

The proceedings were philosophical at times. Meyer asked Jones to state what rubbish, trash or junk is, as defined under the the city ordinance. "Stuff that a normal person wouldn't maintain on their property," Jones responded. Better watch out, all you Arlington-based weirdos.

An image of a sunflower drew a particularly cold response. "Isn't a sunflower usually considered a weed?," the city attorney asked Jones, apparently trying to show that the sunflower was violating the city's weed ordinance (the plant type of weed, not the drug).

In her cross-examination, Smith attempted to convince jurors that sunflowers are more than weeds.

"Where do you think sunflower oil comes from?," she asked Jones.

"I'm not sure."

At the end of the day, the jury sided with the city, under orders that they couldn't rule on whether or not the nuisance ordinance is fair, only if Smith violated it. Smith would have been on the hook for about four grand in fines, but Judge Milner reduced the amount to $2,432.

"We completely support the judge's ruling," says city spokesperson Sana Syed.

Smith is planning to appeal.

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