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Food co-op hit by SWAT raid fights back
Posted By Bob Unruh On 12/24/2008 @ 8:21 pm In Front Page | Comments Disabled
Jacqueline and John Stowers
A LaGrange, Ohio, family whose food co-op connecting local consumers with local farmers was raided by sheriff’s deputies is fighting back with the help of two organizations aimed at protecting the basic rights of Americans.
“We hope that the Lorrain County Court of Common Pleas recognizes that government is overreaching in this case and is basically engaged in intimidation tactics to frighten people into believing that they cannot provide food for themselves,” said Pete Kennedy, a spokesman for the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund.
The organization, which is intended to protect and defend the rights of farmers and consumers to have direct commerce, has announced it is working with the Center for Constitutional Law at the Buckeye Institute, which has filed a court complaint alleging authorities “made a haphazard unannounced entry into the property with guns drawn, as other officers surrounded the property, with guns drawn,” then “confiscated the family’s personal food supply, personal computers, and personal cell phones.”
The complaint names the Ohio Department of Agriculture, the Lorain County General Health District and the state’s attorney general. A spokeswoman at the Department of Agriculture said its officers were at the scene in an advisory role. A spokeswoman at the county health agency refused to comment except to explain it was a “licensing” issue regarding the family’s Manna Storehouse.
A prosecutor assigned to the case declined to respond to WND’s request for a comment.
Kennedy said his organization works in support of allowing farmers and consumers to have “direct commerce with each other free from government interference and harassement.”
“This is an example where, once again, the government is trying to deny people their inalienable, fundamental right to produce and consume the foods of their choice,” said Gary Cox, general counsel for the FTCLDF. “The purpose of our complaint is to correct that wrong.”
The organizations have reported the raid came at Manna Storehouse, a private food cooperative run by John and Jacqueline Stowers. In a video posted both on YouTube and on the Buckeye Institute’s website, the couple explained how they just wanted to provide a resource for both farmers and consumers.
The video also is embedded here:
In the video, Jacqueline Stowers describes how she first started ordering bulk health foods for her own family, and gradually other families asked if they, also, could gain access to the food sources.
Then, about a year ago, the family had a conversation with county officials about licensing. The family asked questions but heard nothing further until the armed raid Dec. 1.
“We had a sheriff’s department group of about 11-12, I don’t know, 13 men come into our home. It was violent, it was belligerent, they didn’t identify themselves,” Jacqueline Stowers said.
She and 10 children were forcibly herded into a room and held there for at least six hours, she said.
“In the meantime we had people with guns inside and outside,” she said.
The legal representatives said a report from the sheriff’s department said one of the deputies “even snatched a cell phone out of the hand of a teenage son who was attempting to call Mr. Stowers (during the raid).”
“In addition, the complaint alleges the governmental authorities confiscated all of the Stowers’ personal food intended to provide for and nourish them all through the winter months,” the organizations said.
The complaint also seeks a preliminary injunction against the Department of Agriculture and declarations stipulating that Manna Storehouse and the Stowers are not a “retail food establishment” under Ohio’s Food Safety Code. As a private cooperative, Manna Storehouse is exempted from the Food Safety Code, the organizations said.
Officials with the Weston A. Price Foundation, a nutrition education non-profit, said several of its members had been participating in the co-op, but now their food supplies are disrupted.
The Buckete Institute’s spokesman, David Hansen, said, “The use of these police state tactics on a peaceful family in simply unacceptable.”
He described the situation, “Officers rushed into the Stowers’ home with guns drawn and held the family – including 10 young children – captive for six hours. This outrageous case of bureaucratic overreach must be addressed.”
The case argues the right to buy food directly from local farmers; distribute locally-grown food to neighbors; and pool resources to purchase food in bulk are rights that do not require a license. And it suggests the right of peaceful citizens to be free from paramilitary police raids, searches and seizures is guaranteed under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Section 14, Article 1 of the Ohio Constitution.
“The Stowers’ constitutional rights were violated over grass-fed cattle, pastured chickens and pesticide-free produce,” said Maurice Thompson, the law director for the Center of Constitutional Law. “Ohioans do not need a government permission slip to run a family farm and co-op, and should not be subjected to raids when they do not have one. This legal action will ensure the ODA understands and respects Ohioans’ rights.”
Center officials noted there has never been a complaint filed against Manna Storehouse or the Stowers related to the quality or healthfulness of the food distributed through the co-op.
The raid on Manna was not the first such case of authorities invading a home over issues involving the operations of food co-ops. WND reported several months ago when authorities in Pennsylvania demanded $4,000 in fines from a farmer who provided raw milk to friends and neighbors.
That case also was highlighted by a SWAT team-like raid on Mark Nolt’s farm, when government agents confiscated tens of thousands of dollars worth of his products as well as pieces of machinery he used for his milk handling and sales.
Online bloggers raged over the situation involving the Stowers.
“Agents began rifling through all of the family’s possessions, a task that lasted hours and resulted in a complete upheaval of every private area in the home. Many items were taken that were not listed on the search warrant. The family was not permitted a phone call, and they were not told what crime they were being charged with. They were not read their rights. Over ten thousand dollars worth of food was taken, including the family’s personal stock of food for the coming year,” said one.
The complaint notes Manna Storehouse deals with wheat, flour, sugar, grass-fed beef, lamb, turkey and eggs from free range chickens, mostly coming from local farmers. The raid was based on an affidavit from Ohio Department of Agriculture agent William Lesho that “makes numerous conclusory and unsubstantiated claims,” the complaint said.
The complaint states:
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