Woman Files Lawsuit After 2019 CBD Oil Arrest at Disney World
ORLANDO, Fla. — Civil rights attorney Ben Crump has filed a civil lawsuit against the Walt Disney Company on behalf of Hester Burkhalter, a North Carolina grandmother who was arrested at Magic Kingdom in April 2019 after security found CBD oil in her purse.
What You Need To Know
- North Carolina woman arrested last year at Disney World for CBD oil
- Hester Burkhalter’s attorneys have filed lawsuit against Disney
- Burkhalter is being represented by civil rights lawyer Ben Crump
- RELATED: Woman in Disney CBD Oil Arrest: Body-Cam Video Proves Wrongful Arrest
According to Crump, Burkhalter had the “CBD oil per her doctor’s recommendation to treat her advance arthritis.”
Burkhalter was arrested and charged with possession of hashish. The charges were later dropped.
“Disney’s stated mission is to make everyone’s dreams come true. Instead, they turned a harmless grandmother’s expensive Disney vacation into a nightmare by treating her like a criminal with the full participation of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office,” Crump said in a statement Wednesday about the lawsuit. “We have given Disney and Orange County several chances to own their mistakes and make this right. The arrogance, complacency and lack of corporate responsibility demonstrated by these organizations demand correction and justice.”
Crump told Spectrum News in April 2019 they were seeking a public apology from Walt Disney World.
Body camera footage released by Orange County Sheriff’s Office at the time shows deputies meeting with Burkhalter after being stopped by security officers at a checkpoint in front of Magic Kingdom.
In the footage, an Orange County deputy is heard saying, “If it doesn’t test positive for THC, then she can have it back.” Deputies tested her oil with a marijuana test kit.
“This does not contain THC,” the deputy is heard saying on the body camera footage. “This is not criminal. It is not criminal to have that.”
Despite finding the oil to be legal, deputies tested it again.
This is when Burkhalter attorney Michelle Rayner-Goolsby said they showed their true intentions.
“At that point that it did not come back positive for THC, you needed to allow her to go back into the park and enjoy this trip with her family,” Rayner-Goolsby said. “But for whatever reason, they were hell bent on arresting her, arresting somebody, that day.”
Two weeks after Burkhalter’s arrest, the Sheriff’s Office issued new guidance for deputies outlining the state’s law on CBD that said “…because of the confusion surrounding CBD, deputies are encouraged to consult on-call Narcotics or Legal prior to effectuating an arrest or seizing CBD.”
Spectrum News reached out to Disney and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office about the lawsuit, but as of Wednesday had not received a response.
‘Unmerited humiliation:’ Woman sues over CBD oil arrest at Disney World
Floyd family attorney Benjamin Crump announces the wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Minneapolis and its police department.
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.
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.