Police using military helicopters raided a New Mexico school looking for marijuana growing in a greenhouse last month, but all they found there were a bunch of tomatoes.
The armed raid on the school containing 11- to 14-year-old students occurred during lunch hour on September 21, according to education director Patricia Pantano.
“We were all as a group eating outside as we usually do, and this unmarked drab green helicopter kept flying over and dropping lower,” Pantano said, reports Tom Sharpe at The Santa Fe New Mexican. “Of course, the kids got all excited. They were telling me that they could see gun barrels outside the helicopter. I was telling them they were exaggerating.”
Pantano, education director of the Camino de Paz Montessori School and Farm in Cuarteles, N.M., said the school has 12 students who participate in farming as a context for learning math and science.
After 15 minutes, the helicopter left, according to Pantano, then five minutes later a state police officer parked a van in the school’s driveway.
Pantano said she asked the officer what was happening, but he would only say he was there to “represent law enforcement.”
Then several other vehicles arrived, and four men wearing bulletproof vests, but without any visible insignia or uniforms, jumped out and said they wanted to inspect the school’s greenhouses.
Pantano said she then turned the men over to the farm director, Greg Nussbaum.
“As we have nothing to hide, you know, they did the tour and they went in the greenhouses and they found it was tomato plants and so that was the story,” she said.
State police spokesman Lt. Eric Garcia claimed he knew nothing about the school incident. But he did admit the Region III Narcotics Task Force — involving state police, county deputies and other law enforcement agencies, plus National Guard helicopters — did conduct raids on “suspected marijuana growers,” presumably including the children’s school, in southern Santa Fe County.
Great use of tax dollars, wouldn’t you say?
Some parents, who declined to be named, said they were concerned about the raid on their children’s school.
Pantano said she did not want to make too big an issue out of the raid, but questioned why such a commotion was necessary when anyone who asked would have been given a tour of the greenhouses — no helicopters necessary.
“We’re sitting here as a teaching staff, always short on money, and we’re thinking, ‘Gosh, all the money it takes to fly that helicopter and hire all those people, it would be bgreat to have this for education.”
The one successful raid during that incredibly expensive week occurred on September 20 when police found a paltry little patch of about 35 marijuana plants on a property on Gold Mine Road near Cerrillos. The plants were spotted from a helicopter and when agents arrived on the ground they noticed “a distinct smell of raw marijuana,” found some plants in a shed and others “in plain view.”
The agents later contacted the resident, Kathrine Moore, whom they claim admitted the marijuana belonged to her. No arrests have been made, according to the police report.
Residents in the Cerrillos and Madrid areas have rightly complained that the helicopter flyovers are scaring livestock, disturbing the peace in rural areas, and resulting in invasions of private property without search warrants.
Marianna Hatten, who runs the High Desert Ranch Bed & Breakfast on Gold Mine Road, said the entire area was subjected to “10 hours of assault” for the grand total of 35 plants.
“I think it would be found illegal to use aerial surveillance from 60 feet when there’s no probably cause,” Hatten said.