Bel Aire officials probably will never look at
sunflowers the same way again.
On Friday, Bel Aire Mayor Brian Withrow hired
a consultant to look into a case in which police searched the home of a
former four-term mayor looking for marijuana.
Police had seen plants in the backyard of
Harold and Carolyn Smith's home and thought them to be pot. They took
They showed the pictures to an assistant
district attorney. He also thought the plants were marijuana. So did the
Sedgwick County district court judge who signed a search warrant.
When police went to the Smith house on Sept.
6 and examined the plants more closely, they realized their mistake.
The plants were sunflowers -- Maximilian
sunflowers, specifically, grown from seeds the Smiths' son, a wildlife
biologist, had given them.
"This morning we hired a guy to come in and
do an entire review" of the case, said Withrow, an associate professor of
criminal justice at Wichita State University.
Michael Birzer, also a WSU faculty member,
will review the case from start to finish, Withrow said.
Withrow said he's asked Birzer to answer
specific questions such as "Did we follow constitutional safeguards?" and
"How did we make this mistake?"
Carolyn Smith declined to comment about the
search Friday, saying she and her husband had hired Wichita lawyer
She jokingly declined to answer when asked
how old she and her husband were, saying she doesn't even tell her children.
But she said it would be safe to say they are senior citizens.
Harold Smith was mayor from 1991 to 1998.
Voters elected him four times, but he didn't serve out his last two-year
term, his wife said.
said the Smiths, who were never arrested or charged, have not filed a
lawsuit but hired him to investigate "how this could possibly happen."
"These are very community-oriented people who
have been active in their community affairs for years. I think it's probably
fair to say they care much less about the idea of a lawsuit then they do
about assuring the citizens of Bel Aire that they have competent police
officers who will protect the rights of everyone."
said 10 or 11 law enforcement officers searched the Smiths' entire house,
including dresser drawers and closets, videotaping everything.
After 45 minutes to an hour, the search was
called off, Monnat said.
Carolyn Smith is upset that the city hasn't
returned the videotape, Monnat said.
She considers that an invasion of their
privacy every day it sits in city offices, Monnat
The Smiths have a big backyard that they
consider their "garden of tranquility," Monnat
said. They have an herb garden and many types of plants and flowers. Carolyn
Smith leads a senior citizens group and often has members over to the
said it's distressing that trained officers don't know the difference
between the state flower and marijuana.
"That plant on our state flag is not a
marijuana plant but a sunflower," Monnat
Withrow said that in the officers' defense,
the plants weren't blooming at the time. Monnat
said while some might not have been in bloom, others were, and police would
have passed many sunflowers driving from the police department to the Smith