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Judge Upholds Search Warrant Cops Used to Raid Shorewood Woman's Home For Piddling Pot Arrest

The complaint for the search warrant "describes wholly innocent conduct," the judge said, but he still found it to be legit.

Angela Kirking with her attorney, Jeff Tomczak. Credit: Joseph Hosey
Angela Kirking with her attorney, Jeff Tomczak. Credit: Joseph Hosey
The complaint for the search warrant police and DEA agents used to raid a Shorewood woman's home did not accuse her of breaking the law, but it was still good enough for them to roust her out of bed at gunpoint and arrest her on a misdemeanor marijuana charge, a Will County judge ruled.

Judge Bennett Braun's ruling clears the way for the state's attorney's office to continue its prosecution of Angela Kirking, a 46-year-old face-painter.

In the complaint for the search warrant in question, a DEA agent wrote that he had been staking out a Crest Hill indoor gardening store because his previous surveillance there "led to the arrests of subjects for production of cannabis sativa plants and possession of cannabis."

During his vigil outside Midwest Hydroganics on Renwock Road, the agent noticed Kirking "exit the front door of the store carrying a green plastic bag containing unknown items" in September.

Kirking said the green plastic bag held organic fertilizer she bought for her hybrid hibiscus. She needs to use organic fertilizer, she explained, because she eats the plant and does not want to be poisoned.

The agent tailed Kirking from Midwest Hydroganics back to her place in Shorewood and later got his hands on her electric bills from February 2013 through September. Compared to two of her neighbors, the bills were "consistently higher," according to the complaint for the search warrant. The agent boasted in the complaint of knowing through his "experience (that) persons involved in the cultivation of marijuana utilize a large supply of electricity to cultivate the plants during the growing cycles."

Three weeks later, at 4:15 in the morning, two DEA agents "conducted an investigative garbage pull" at Kirking's residence, the complaint said. After going through her trash, the agents reportedly found "multiple green plant stems" that smelled strongly of "green cannabis."

Three days after that the agents and police pulled Kirking's husband over as he left for work at 4:50 a.m., according to police reports. The cops and agents informed the husband of the search warrant and asked him to open his door to them, a report said. Kirking said her terrier was sleeping on her bed with her when the agents woke her up.

"They had a gun pointed at me when they said, 'Are there any illegal substances in your house?'" Kirking recalled.

There reportedly was—police said they found 9.3 grams of marijuana in Kirking's "art room."

In a decision Braun considered for three months before handing down last week, the judge noted the search warrant complaint didn't actually accuse Kirking of anything criminal.

"In the main, the complaint for the search warrant in this case describes wholly innocent conduct," Judge Braun said.

Kirking's "presence at Midwest Hydroganics on apparently one occasion and the vague description that the electric bills at the residence were higher than two neighboring residences are inconsequential. And (Kirking) correctly argues that the possession of mature cannabis sativa stalks is not illegal," he said.

The "strong odor of green cannabis" the agent said he noticed while rooting around in Kirking's garbage and the fact the stems "field tested positive for the presence of cannabis," however, "rose above the level of 'mere suspicion,'" said Braun, who noted that the use of resources by the DEA and Shorewood police in the Kirking case did not factor into his decision.

"The relatively negligible amount of contraband seized as a result of the warrant's execution is not pertinent to this ruling," he said. "Further, it is not for this court to determine the wisdom of the use of surveillance and extensive law enforcement resources to generate arrests for possession of a pipe and small amounts of marijuana."

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