A North Carolina woman who was arrested at Disney World in 2019 is suing Disney and a Florida sheriff’s department in a case represented by civil rights attorney Ben Crump.
According to a complaint filed in Orange County, Florida, last month, Hester Burkhalter, of Hickory, North Carolina, was placed under arrest by a sheriff’s deputy at Disney World in April 2019. Burkhalter, who was 69 at the time, was in possession of therapeutic CBD oil, recommended by her doctor for severe osteoarthritis in her legs.
CBD oil is derived from industrial hemp, and contains little or no THC, the active drug found in marijuana. CBD oil is legal in Florida and widely sold throughout the state, according to the complaint. Even after a field test revealed that Burkhalter’s CBD oil contained no THC, the complaint states, the sheriff’s deputy still charged her with felony narcotics possession.
Burkhalter was detained in the presence of her husband, their disabled adult daughter and two adopted children. She was then handcuffed in view of other tourists and taken to the sheriff’s office, where she was forced to strip and undergo a body cavity search. Burkhalter was released on $2,000 bail after 15 hours. The charges were dropped.
Burkhalter’s lawsuit seeks $6 million in compensatory damages and $12 million in punitive damages. Her husband and three children are seeking $1 million each in compensatory damages and $3 million each in punitive damages.
In addition to Burkhalter’s arrest, the complaint says Disney employees ejected her family from the park.
“Rather than a family vacation to look back upon fondly,” the complaint says, “Disney and its security operatives in the sheriff’s office treated plaintiffs to a fifteen-hour long emotional ordeal that included Burkhalter’s improper arrest and detention on baseless felony narcotics charges, while her ailing husband, disabled adult daughter and two pre-teen children watched and waited in horror,unable to understand the circumstances or to help her, uncertain of her fate and, therefore, uncertain of their own fates as well.”
“Adding insult to injury,” the complaint continues, “Disney took the gratuitous step of summarily ejecting Hester and her family from its facilities in perpetuity as ‘trespassers,’ thereby cementing the defamatory stigma and unmerited humiliation precipitated by defendants’ disgraceful conduct.”
USA TODAY reached out to Disney World for comment. The Orange County Sheriff’s Office, which is named as a defendant in the complaint, said it does not comment on pending litigation.
Crump is a nationally-known attorney who has represented the families of African Americans who were killed by law enforcement. His most recent clients include the families of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the Minneapolis man and Louisville woman who died at the hands of local police.
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The killings of Floyd and Taylor have inspired months of protest by Black Lives Matter and other groups that want to see changes in law enforcement and accountability for officers who routinely use excessive force.
Though Burkhalter’s the complaint notes that most of those arrested in Florida on felony narcotics charges are Black or people of color, Burkhalter is white.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: North Carolina woman sues over CBD oil arrest at Disney World
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