An Ohio family whose members have served their friends and neighbors with food cooperative services involving bulk and discount supplies has been targeted in a raid by armed law enforcement officers wearing black fatigues who forcibly rounded up the mom and 10 children and held them for six hours.
The raid prompted a complaint filed today on behalf of the family by the Center for Constitutional Law at the Buckeye Institute. It alleges 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.
An prosecutor assigned to handle the case declined to respond to WND requests for a comment.
It's 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.
John and Jacqueline Stowers, whose Ohio home was raided, explained their work in providing affordable, healthy foods to friends and neighbors in a video posted both on YouTube and on the Buckeye Institute's website.
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," she stated.
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 Buckeye Institute's Maurice Thompson said he took legal action in Lorain County Court of Common Pleas because of alleged violations of the Stowers' constitutional rights.
"The use of these police state tactics on a peaceful family is simply unacceptable," said Buckeye Institute President David Hansen. "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 Buckeye Institute argues the core issue – 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.
"The Stowers' constitutional rights were violated over grass-fed cattle, free-range chickens and pesticide-free produce," said Thompson, the institute's Center of Constitutional Law director. "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."
The institute said licensure law enforcement is one thing, raids are another.
"The Buckeye Institute seeks an injunction against similar future raids, and a declaration that such licensure laws are unconstitutional as applied the Stowers and individuals like them," the institute said. "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."
Online bloggers raged over the situation.
"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:
The affidavit does not indicate that the Stowers are dangerous.
The affidavit does not indicate … exigent circumstances … that would warrant using force.
The police knocked on the door, and Katie Stowers opened.
Police shoved Katie to the side and immediately entered the residence without first announcing (1) that they are police; or (2) the purpose of the visit.
During the raid, at least one, if not several police entered the home with guns drawn, and the Stowers home was surrounded by police who also had guns drawn.
Once having obtained entry… the lead officer … with his gun drawn, swiftly and immediately moved to the upstairs of the home, where he found eight small children."
The officer used physical force to get Jacqueline Stowers and her children down the stairs.
The officers held the Stowers family captive in their living room for in excess of six hours.
The complaint raises issues of unlawful search and seizure, taking of private property, due process and unlawful application of police power.