Two years ago, John Pendarvis was accused of illegally growing hemp on 10 acres in South Carolina. A large chunk of his crop was cut down as a result, and Pendarvis — a licensed hemp grower in the state — was placed under arrest.
Now he’s suing.
Pendarvis filed a lawsuit last month in Dorchester County against the S.C. Commissioner of Agriculture, the Dorchester County Sheriff’s Office and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division saying both his arrest and the destruction of his crops were illegal.
The complaint includes claims of unlawful arrest, assault and battery, abuse of process, defamation and negligence.
Lawyers for Pendarvis as well as representatives with the Dorchester County Sheriff’s Office and SLED did not immediately respond to McClatchy News’ request for comment on Tuesday.
A spokesperson for the S.C. Department of Agriculture declined to comment on pending litigation but said it is “proud of the South Carolina Hemp Farming Program and our farmers’ successes over the past several years.”
The agriculture department launched its pilot program allowing a select number of farmers to grow industrial hemp in 2018. Hemp is an agricultural product that comes from the cannabis plant and is often used to create CBD oil. State officials doubled the number of permits in 2019 to allow for growing demand. By the following year, there were at least 265 licensed hemp farmers in the state.
Pendarvis received his hemp growing license in May 2019, according to court filings.
Under the program, farmers are required to detail the acreage and GPS coordinates of where they intend to grow hemp prior to planting it. Farmers can submit an acreage amendment form if anything changes.
Attorneys for Pendarvis said he submitted an amendment to his application in August 2019 after exchanging emails with the S.C. Department of Agriculture detailing issues with his growing operation on the fields he initially submitted to the state for approval.
The new hemp fields covered 10 acres on Maple Hill Road in Dorchester County.
“Due to the extensive drought in May and an overabundance of rain in June, I was prohibited to plant the fields that were previously reported with GPS coordinates,” Pendarvis reportedly wrote in a July 2019 email.
But at the end of August in 2019, officials with the S.C. Department of Agriculture reportedly tipped off SLED and sent official word to Pendarvis that he was growing hemp illegally. According to the complaint, the notice stated that his amendment for “adding acreage where hemp has already been planted” wouldn’t be processed and the crop was therefore in violation of state law.
Law enforcement arrived on Pendarvis’ property on Sept. 19, 2019, to destroy the crop and arrest him. He was the first hemp farmer to be charged with violating South Carolina’s hemp growing law, SLED said.
In an affidavit attached to the warrant for his arrest, SLED said state agriculture officials noticed “mature hemp plants growing on an unlicensed site” in Dorchester County in July 2019. Pendarvis reportedly submitted an amendment to his application after their visit.
SLED said he violated the law because “prior approval of the new growing location was not obtained before the hemp was grown on the Maple Hill Road site.”
According to the complaint, Pendarvis repeatedly asked to speak with his attorney before officials destroyed his crop on the day of his arrest.
“My lawyer can’t talk to y’all before you destroy it?” Pendarvis was heard asking in body camera footage, his attorneys said.
“We’ll talk to your lawyer later,” the officers reportedly responded before the crops were razed.
The lawsuit alleges officials “willfully and intentionally refused to allow him to contact his lawyer.” His attorneys also said their conduct was “atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized community, and so extreme and outrageous as to exceed all possible bounds of decency.”
Pendarvis is seeking damages for loss of time, deprivation of liberty, mental pain and suffering, indignity, embarrassment and loss of value of the destroyed crop, among other issues.
The Department of Agriculture, the Dorchester County Sheriff’s Office and SLED have not yet responded, court filings show.