Judge rules illegal search, seizure of raw dairy goods
GAYLORD – A Sibley County District Court judge ruled last month that evidence seized in the search of Gibbon raw dairy farmer Michael Hartmann’s truck last December was in violation of his constitutional rights.
“No matter how frustrated this Court or the State is with his disregard of the law or his word, the violation of (Hartmann’s) constitutional rights can neither be tolerated or condoned,” Judge Erica H. MacDonald wrote in her conclusion. She granted a motion to suppress, but denied a motion to dismiss the case, according to court documents.
“It is troublesome that (Hartmann) pled guilty to this Court and gave his word as a condition of probation that he would comply with the requirements of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA), but willfully failed to honor that pledge,” MacDonald wrote in her conclusion.
A hearing for an order to show cause for a probation violation in the case was set for 10 a.m., Tuesday, Dec. 17 in Sibley County District Court.
“There’s more to come yet,” Hartmann said last week. “… I think what the judge says is what’s going on. The record stands for itself. We’re hoping to get this over with.”
Assistant Sibley County Attorney Donald E. Lannoye, appearing on behalf of the State at contested omnibus hearings on May 21 and August 12, 2013, did not comment on the judge’s order.
On Oct. 15, 2012, Hartmann pled guilty to sale of unpasteurized milk and sale of food without a license. He was placed on six months unsupervised probation with the condition that he “get into compliance with all state licensing and permitting, along with other Minnesota Department of Health and Agriculture requirements within 60 days. There is a pending probation violation, alleging Hartmann violated the probation term, according to court documents.
He was charged with misdemeanor sale of unpasteurized milk and sale of improperly labeled cheese after evidence was seized on Dec. 4, 2012, during a vehicle search by a Minnesota State Trooper, according to court documents.
State trooper Sergeant Joseph Heyman doing commercial vehicle enforcement on U.S. Highway 12 in the City of Independence, noticed a white truck with a refrigeration unit without Department of Transportation (DOT) markings or numbers on it. He followed the truck, could not see a rear plate and stopped it, according to court documents.
Heyman testified in court that he is authorized to search inside the back of a truck without a warrant. The events of the stop were captured on Heyman’s squad camera, according to court documents.
He testified that Hartmann “wasn’t very forthcoming with information” and was “evasive with his answers” when he questioned him on the highway. Heymann testified he determined the truck met commercial vehicle guidelines because it was hauling produce, according to court documents.
He said that the rear license plate was dirty and not in the “typical spot that plates are ordinarily kept,” according to court documents.
According to video clip 1, Heyman asked Hartmann what was in the truck and Hartmann said it was empty. Heyman noticed a white, powdery substance on the back lift gate of the truck, asked Hartmann if it was milk, which he confirmed it was, according to court documents.
Heyman opened the back of the truck, looked in and saw milk and coolers, opened them and found cheese products and unprocessed milk with hand-written labels, according to court documents.
Heyman explained to Hartmann that farm exemptions apply so he doesn’t need a DOT number or his name on the side of the truck, but that it is a commercial vehicle and he will inspect it, according to court documents.
After inspecting the truck, Heyman talked to several MDA employees including James Roettger who told Heyman he believed a crime was being committed. Roettger told Heyman to seize the milk and cheese products, according to court documents.
Heyman read Hartmann a Miranda warning, entered the truck and seized the evidence and told the driver and Hartman they were free to leave. The stop lasted about 90 minutes, according to court documents.
Hartmann was charged with misbranding food in another complaint after the execution of a search warrant authorizing the search on his farm was done on Jan. 9, 2013.
Hartmann, represented by Hawley attorney Zenas Baer, filed motions to dismiss and suppress the Jan. 9, 2013 search warrant at his farm that resulted the seizure of milk, eggs, ice cream, computer units and documents, according to court documents.
The motion to dismiss argued that Minnesota’s regulatory scheme is unconstitutional and Hartmann is exempt from licensing requirements, according to court documents.
MacDonald ruled that Hartmann failed to notify the Minnesota Attorney General of his constitutional challenges to the statues, so the court does not have jurisdiction to hear them.
Hartmann argued that the evidence seized during the search of his truck on Dec. 4, 2012 and on his farm on Jan. 9, 2013 violated his constitutional rights to be free from an unreasonable search, according to court documents.
MacDonald ruled that that initial stop of the truck was constitutional but that (trooper) Heyman did not have reasonable suspicion to do anything more than stop the vehicle and note that it was a farm vehicle. “The problem is Heyman’s expansion of the scope and duration of the stop, including three separate, warrant-less and constitutionally unjustified searches of Hartmann’s truck.
Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org