Judge Shuts Down Motion to Dismiss Lawsuit Filed By Retired Black Couple Accused of Growing Marijuana on Property That Was Not Theirs By West Virginia Deputies (Video)

A court has declined the motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed by a Black couple who said they were racially profiled by West Virginia law enforcement who accused them of growing marijuana.

“We’re moving forward on all charges,” civil rights attorney John H. Bryan said in a video update on Friday, Sept. 22. 

The couple, Donnie and Ventriss Hairston, as well as their landlord, Jason Tartt, filed a lawsuit against McDowell County Sheriff deputies Dalton Martin and Jordan Horn last year, stating that their civil rights were violated. The McDowell County Commission and supervisor James “Boomer” Muncy were also listed as defendants “for allegedly implementing an unconstitutional policy or custom that caused constitutional injuries.”

Deputies accused Donnie and Ventriss Hairston of growing marijuana. (Photo: The Civil Rights Lawyer/Youtube screenshot)

In August 2020, the deputies approached the Hairstons, both in their 60s and retired, at a home they were renting. They questioned if they were growing the drug, to which they replied “no,” according to court documents shared by Bryan. The two deputies, who are white, also searched the exterior of the property. 

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“As the situation progressed, the officers grew more agitated and demanding, and plaintiffs, none of whom had any criminal history, quickly realized that the officers had no legitimate reason to suspect them of any wrongdoing or to be angry with them,” the suit says.

“Plaintiffs suspected that the officers were racially profiling them and violating their civil rights. Because plaintiffs were ‘in a rural area with a history of police misconduct and official corruption,’ they felt that the officers endangered them.”

The incident happened at the height of protests against police brutality and racism in the country following the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Body camera footage shows Ventriss expressing that she was “scared” during the interaction. As Atlanta Black Star reported, Ventriss and her husband were accused of growing “four marijuana plants located in overgrown brush” at a nearby property.


During the incident, the deputies threatened to arrest Tartt, who refused to give them his personal information. The trio was standing on the porch when officers arrived. 

“I have reason to believe that these two homes here that you own is related to that marijuana growth, so you have to give me your name and date of birth by law,” one officer could be heard saying in the footage. 

“My property has nothing to do with what you found,” Tartt later responded. 

Tartt was instructed to step off the porch, handcuffed, and placed in the back seat of the police vehicle. He was charged with obstruction, which was ultimately dropped after the officers didn’t attend court. 

The judge denied the defendants’ partial motion to dismiss last Thursday.  

The defendants challenged “the sufficiency of plaintiff’s allegations only as to their [1983] claim against the County Commission, [1985] conspiracy claim against officers Martin and Horn, and supervisory liability claim against Officer Muncy,” per court records. 

The plaintiffs have filed two kinds of claims against these deputies and other defendants. The Section 1983 claim allows people to sue the state government or its officials for violating one’s civil rights. The 1985 one alleges two or more people attempted to prevent, intimidate, or threaten a person in a fashion that also violates their civil rights.

Bryan explained that his client’s claims against both the county and the deputies have been allowed to go forward. The litigation has now advanced to the deposition phase.

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