Residents of sustainable community shaken after busted police raid

Residents of sustainable community shaken after busted police raid

Residents of a “sustainable” community in southwest Arlington are demanding apologies from the city and police department after an Arlington Police tactical unit team raided their property looking for marijuana and weapons but found nothing.

Settled on a three-acre parcel of land in the 7300 block of Mansfield Cardinal Road, the Garden of Eden is billed as a “new paradigm eco-village”, dedicated to highlighting how “easy, abundant, and sustainable life can be.”

The property houses multiple residents, many of which move freely to and from the community. They grow their own food; build makeshift shelters from materials salvaged from dumpsters; and try to live off the land to the best of their ability.

Since 2007, the Garden of Eden has been fighting the City of Arlington over numerous complaints of unsanitary conditions, high weeds, stagnant water, and fire hazards among other things from its neighbors.

Two warrants were executed by the city on the morning of Aug. 2.

City code enforcement officers served an inspection and abatement warrant along with more than $3,600 in code violation citations for things such as high weeds and grass, hazardous wiring, improper land use, and unlawfully operating a food and retail business out of their home.

The police department obtained a warrant from Municipal Court Judge Kathleen Weisskopf for what it believed to be an elaborate marijuana operation.

For several months, the department’s Narcotics Unit conducted surveillance it believed proved the community was cultivating marijuana.

Earlier in the year, undercover officers attended a public event hosted by the community. According to the affidavit, they toured the Garden of Eden with the property’s owner, Shellie Smith. The police affidavit indicates that rather than finding evidence of illegal activity, the officers mainly found various gardens, plants, and bamboos as well as various on-site workshops.

The detective who requested the warrant – identified in the affidavit as M. Perez -- conducted online research that led her to believe the community was baking marijuana into food and selling it. This assumption was based on the fact that the website talks about “uber dank culinary artistry” and uses the word “high” multiple times to describe it.

On July 30, the Arlington Police Department, along with the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), conducted a helicopter flyover more than 400 feet above the property. The DPS agent who conducted the flyover – identified as Agent S. Reynolds -- later told Perez that he observed a “30-by-30 square foot area” that appeared to have marijuana plants. The affidavit says Reynolds is a “credible and reliable” individual with 17 years of experience and having spotted more than 100,000 plants in his career.

The department received an anonymous tip in June that one of the community’s residents, Quinn Eaker, 30, was growing marijuana and that there were rifles and a pistol on the property.

In the affidavit, Perez cites her professional experience in order to convince the judge the property contained a laundry-list of drug paraphernalia including cultivation equipment, materials for marijuana distribution, books, schedules, equipment and even bank statements.

Acting largely on the anonymous tip of weapons, Perez convinced the judge that the residents of the community could take up arms against the officers serving the warrant. As a result, the department sent a fully armed and armored tactical unit to execute the warrant.

That morning, Eaker – who bills himself as the “leader” of the community – watched as about 20 SWAT officers poured onto the property.

According to Eaker, the officers entered the residence and handcuffed eight adults at gunpoint. Eaker was arrested for outstanding traffic violations and escorted from the property shortly after the raid began, according to Sgt. Christopher Cook with the police department.

“They were initially handcuffed by members of our tactical team; however, when it was safe to do so and within 20 to 30 minutes, all members were un-handcuffed and allowed to go about their daily business at the property,” said Cook. “This included allowing people to leave if they so desired, in which several did leave the property.”

The SWAT team was only requested for the narcotics warrant and not for the code compliance warrant, and only searched the 30-by-30 foot area as described in the affidavit.

“Deployment of our tactical team is very common when serving a narcotics search warrant so that the location can be secured quickly for narcotics detectives to safely enter the property,” said Cook. “Once it was determined that area didn't include marijuana we stopped the narcotics search even though the warrant authorized a search of the entire premises.”

Eaker told the Arlington Voice that the police refused to produce the warrants for several hours and “enforced” activities to mow the land, destroy plants, and “steal” property.

“There are a lot of allegations made by these residents that are simply just not true,” said Cook. “The entire team cleared within 45 minutes that morning and did not stay for the execution of the code stuff.”

A couple of police officers were stationed while code compliance conducted its warrant, but they were only there to ensure the safety of the city employees and did not participate in the removal or destruction of property.

As authorized by their warrant, code compliance officers removed 20,420 pounds of nuisance materials. The City itemized everything it removed in a nine-page inventory. Among those items were 24 tires which were pooling stagnant water, piles of rotting vegetables and meat, and mounds of debris.

Photo of Garden of Eden as supplied by City of Arlington
One of several photos taken by code enforcement officers the morning of the raid.

The inventory also described various “fecal piles” throughout the lot that were ultimately left untouched.

According to the city’s affidavit, the property owner refused to comply with multiple requests to clean up the property and make repairs.

In February, the City issued several Notices of Abatement in an attempt to have the property cleaned up. The property’s owner, Shellie Smith, 54, appealed the notices by requesting an administrative hearing – which she later informed the City she would not attend.

The hearing went on as scheduled without Smith. The Hearing Officer concluded that the property’s conditions constituted a nuisance under city ordinance and ordered Smith to reconcile the situation in three days. That order was ignored by Smith.

The affidavit also concludes that the community is running a food establishment in violation of State and local law. Under its “uber dank” cuisine section on its website, the Garden of Eden has several pictures of prepared dishes and multiple “testimonials” from people who have eaten there. The facility has no food handler permits on file.

A photo of Garden of Eden boutique from their website
A photo taken from the Garden of Eden website displaying their clothing and accessories "boutique

The City also concludes that the property owner is operating a retail clothing and accessory boutique. Photos from their website show numerous racks of clothes and tables full of jewelry and accessories. This activity violates a city ordinance which prohibits retail use in Agricultural-zoned properties.

An anonymous informant also provided the city with information about nuisances on the property. One such nuisance was described in the affidavit as what appeared to be a Chevrolet Suburban buried in dirt. The informant said that the residents planned to use the vehicle as additional space for guests to sleep while staying at the property.

A photo of unsanitary conditions at Garden of Eden as taken by the City of Arlington
A photo of the buried car as described by the anonymous informant. Courtesy City of Arlington

Eaker said the community is prepared to file a lawsuit against the city and the department if they don’t make “rightful, justful amends.”

“If they do it quickly and efficiently, then we will gladly sign a contract saying we won’t pursue a lawsuit,” said Eaker. “One of our demands is that the Mayor, the Tarrant County Sheriff, the City Manager, the Code Compliance office and the lieutenants and sergeants of the department make a public acknowledgement that they violated their oath.”

The police department would not comment on the possibility of litigation.

Click here to read the police affidavit

Click here to read the Code Compliance affidavit

Click here for an itemized list of items removed from Garden of Eden