Jacqueline and John Stowers
A lawsuit brought by an Ohio family whose children were held at SWAT-team gunpoint while their food supplies were confiscated is scheduled to go to trial this week.
John and Jackie Stowers are suing the Ohio Department of Agriculture and the Lorain County General Health District over the raid on their “Manna Storehouse,” an organic food co-op that operated in LaGrange.
The Stowerses and their 10 children and grandchildren were detained in one room of their home for six hours while sheriff’s officers confiscated 60 boxes of fresh farm food, computers, phones and records, including USDA-certified meat from the children’s mini-farm, according to lawyers for the plaintiffs.
The state and county are accused of 119 counts, including unlawful search and seizure, illegal use of state police power, taking of private property without compensation, failure to provide due process and equal protection and a multitude of constitutional rights violations, including the right to grow and eat one’s own food and offer it to others.
At that time, a state agent from the Ohio Department of Agriculture pressured the Stowerses to “sell” him a dozen eggs, then returned with a SWAT team to detain the family’s children and confiscate food supplies.
The case brought by state and local authorities against the Stowerses came to a head Dec. 1, 2008, when police officers used SWAT-style tactics to burst into the home, hold family members, including children, at gunpoint and confiscate the family’s personal food supply.
Two organizations, the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund and the Buckeye Institute’s legal arm, the Center for Constitutional Law, initially started working to defend the family.
But now the family is on the offense, accusing the government agencies and their individuals of rights violations.
David Cox, an attorney for the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, confirmed that nothing ever resulted for the family after the confiscation of the food.
There were no charges, “civil, criminal or otherwise,” he said.
The confrontation began developing several years ago when local health officials demanded the family hold a retail food license to run their co-op. Thompson said the family wrote a letter questioning the requirement and asking for evidence that would indicate they were operating a food store.
The Stowers family members simply “take orders from (co-op) members … then divide up the food,” Thompson explained.
“The health inspector didn’t like the tone of the letter,” Thompson said, and the result was that law enforcement officials planned, staged and carried out the raid on the family’s home.
The “sale” of the eggs to the undercover agent was entrapment, the family’s lawyers have contended, since the family members had told him they didn’t sell food to the public and couldn’t help him.
Eventually, when he refused to leave, the family gave him a dozen eggs to hasten his departure, Thompson explained.
The case goes to trial Thursday and Friday in Elyria.
Among other things, the case demands the return of the family’s property, as well as an injunction prohibiting enforcement of any licensing requirements of the Ohio Uniform Food Safety Code upon the cooperative.
The case focuses first on the “paramilitary style execution of a search warrant against a peaceful family” whose only alleged crime was not getting a state permit. The second is a challenge to government claims the cooperative is a retail food establishment.
“Between the physical things they took and the emotional and spiritual trauma they caused in our lives, it’s our hope we can somehow help others with this [lawsuit],” Jacqueline Stowers said.
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.
Officials with the Weston A. Price Foundation, a nutrition education non-profit, said several of their members had been participating in the co-op, but now their food supplies are disrupted.