Tom Sharpe Police last month raided an Española-area school looking for marijuana growing in a greenhouse, but all they found there were tomatoes.
Patricia Pantano, education director of the Camino de Paz Montessori School and Farm in Cuarteles, between Española and Chimayó on N.M. 76, said the raid occurred Sept. 21 during the lunch hour.
"We were all as a group eating outside as we usually do, and this unmarked drab-green helicopter kept flying over and dropping lower," she said. "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."
After 15 minutes, Pantano said, the helicopter left, 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 only would say he was there as a law-enforcement representative.
Then other vehicles arrived and four men wearing bullet-proof vests, but without any visible insignias or uniforms, got 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 said he knew nothing about the school incident. But he said 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 in southern Santa Fe County.
The one successful raid during that week occurred Sept. 20 when police found some 35 marijuana plants on a property on Gold Mine Road near Cerrillos. According to the application for the search warrant, the plants were spotted from the air 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 document says the agents later contacted the resident, Kathrine Moore, who admitted the marijuana belonged to her. No arrests have been made.
Residents in the Cerrillos and Madrid areas have complained that the flyovers are scaring livestock, disturbing the peace in the 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 35 plants. "I think it would be found illegal to use aerial surveillance from 60 feet when there's no probable cause," she said.
The nine-acre Camino de Paz Montessori School and Farm in Cuarteles is about eight years old and this year has 12 students, ages 11 to 14, who participate in farming as a context for learning mathematics and science.
Some parents, who did not want to be named, said they, too, 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.
"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 great to have this for education.' "
Contact Tom Sharpe at 986-3080 or email@example.com.