Grandmother Suing Disney After Arrested for CBD Oil

It’s surprising to hear people are still being arrested for possessing CBD oil. This is especially true when the arrest happens in a theme park that some claim to be “the happiest place on Earth.”

Attorney Ben Crump has filed a civil lawsuit against Walt Disney Co. and the Orange County Sheriff. This lawsuit was made on behalf of Hester Burkhalter, a 69-year-old great grandmother hailing from Hickory, North Carolina, and her family.

Crump claims Burkhalter “was wrongfully arrested and taken into custody at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, for possessing federally legal CBD oil” in 2019.

CBD is not the same as its psychoactive cousin, THC. Instead, it’s naturally occurring anti-inflammatory found in the cannabis plant.

Crump and a July 29 complaint both highlight that a lawsuit has been filed. The lawsuit was filed in the Circuit Court of the 9th Judicial Circuit in Orange County against several entities, including The Walt Disney Company, a number of its executives, the Orange County Sheriff Department, and many of its deputies. This lawsuit claims illegal detention, false arrest, and a violation of civil rights.

The suit seeks $6 million in compensation for the damages and $12 million in punitive damages for Burkhalter, along with millions of dollars for the rest of her family. In all, the suit is seeking in excess of $18 million in damages.

According to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office in an email to CNN, “The Orange County Sheriff’s Office has not been served with a lawsuit, but in any case, we don’t comment on possible pending litigation.”

The Walt Disney Co. has not replied to CNN’s inquiry regarding the lawsuit.

The complaint filed on July 29 says the following:

Defendants Disney and uninformed local law enforcement officials acting at its direction and under its authority as a Florida landowner … arrested and detained, processed as a narcotics felon and strip-searched a harmless, entirely blameless American great-grandmother, whose only ‘crime’ was her desire to less crippling osteoarthritic pain with a doctor-recommended hemp-based oil, while giving her family, including a disabled adult daughter and two adopted pre-teen children, an enjoyable vacation at the ‘Disney World’s entertainment complex near Orlando. The disgraceful events that animate this lawsuit ‘pull back the curtain’ on the casual cruelty and unpardonable ineptitude that lie at Disney’s cold corporate heart.

Crump and Burkhalter discussed what happened in a complaint and when they participated in a news conference. Burkhalter brought her husband, daughter, and two adopted children (8 and 10 years old), from Hickory, North Carolina to visit Walt Disney World in 2019. Crump said that Burkhalter had saved over two years to afford the trip. The family spent April 14 at several Disney parks before arriving at Magic Kingdom on April 15. This is where and when Disney’s security requested Burkhalter to remove the contents of her bag. Crump says Burkhalter opened her bag and placed the contents, including a one-ounce container of CBD oil, into the security tray for checking.

While in the press conference, Burkhalter said she told the security staff that the CBD was something her doctor has recommended for her to use as a treatment for her advanced arthritis. The security asked if the bottle contained any THC, to which Burkhalter replied that she did not know. However, according to the complaint, the bottle had 0% THC printed on the label. 

The complaint says that after questioning Burkhalter, a sheriff’s deputy tested the substance twice. The first test resulted in a negative reading. But the second test came back positive.

Crump and the complaint both highlight that after the positive test, the sheriff separated Burkhalter from her family and placed her under arrest, citing felony drug possession as the charge. She was then subjected to drug-sniffing dogs, vomited while being transported, and requested and was denied medical care during the process.

After arriving at the detention facility, Burkhalter had her mugshot taken before being escorted into an adjacent room. This is “where she was instructed by other officers to strip naked and to ‘bend over’ for a body cavity search,” according to the complaint.

Burkhalter explained during a news conference on Wednesday, “It was the most humiliating day of my life.”

Crump, also currently representing George Floyd’s family in a separate lawsuit, referred to Floyd’s verbalized anxiety as the police officers attempted to force him into the back seat of the vehicle just before dying. Burkhalter also claims she told the police officers that she couldn’t breathe during the ordeal.

Burkhalter said, “I even told them that I could not breathe before I finally got out. I felt like I was going to pass out, and I started throwing up, and the only comment was that one officer who said, ‘She’s throwing up,’ like it was no big deal. I don’t understand it.”

Crump discusses that they have already requested for Disney to offer an apology. He states that the apology has not been given at this time. Crump also highlighted that the Orange County Sheriff’s Office had not spoken much on the matter, besides trying to “defend their indefensible actions.”

On April 15, 2019, Burkhalter’s son posted her bail. She was released just after midnight after spending nearly 15 hours entangled in this ordeal, according to the complaint. After her release, the family was then told that if they attempted to go back on Disney property, they’d be arrested and charged for trespassing. This restriction was lifted on May 9, 2019 in a letter Disney security sent to her attorneys, according to the information provided during this news conference.

How would you feel if this was your mother, grandmother, or great grandmother? Is this the way those seeking relief should be treated?