Gibbon farmer guilty of selling
raw milk in 2012
GAYLORD - A Sibley County District Court judge did not enforce a probation violation Wednesday involving a rural Gibbon farmer who pleaded guilty to sale of unpasteurized milk and sale of food without a license on Oct. 15, 2012.
Judge Erica H. MacDonald said the probation violation was the first violation on the current (court case) for Michael Hartmann. He walked out of the courtroom with a smile on his face.
Assistant Sibley County Attorney Donald Lannoye commented on Wednesday's disposition hearing via e-mail.
"Judge MacDonald determined it was appropriate to impose no consequence for defendant's (Hartmann's) probation violation," Lannoye wrote. "The Sibley County Attorney's Office would like to think that court orders actually mean something. Imposing no consequence for violating probation would seem to eviscerate the meaning and legitimacy of the original plea agreement and sentencing order."
"It's been a long run, a long battle," Hartmann said outside the courtroom.
In an October 2012 agreement with prosecutors, he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor violations of the state food and dairy code, was fined $585 and placed on six months probation. A probation condition was that he "get into compliance with all state licensing and permitting, along with other Minnesota Department of Health and Agriculture (MDA) requirements within 60 days.
Hartmann 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 Joseph Heyman was doing commercial vehicle enforcement on U.S. Highway 12 in Independence when he noticed a white truck with a refrigeration unit without Department of Transportation markings or numbers. Heyman said he followed the truck, could not see a rear license 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 stop was recorded on Heyman's squad camera, according to court documents. He later determined the truck met commercial vehicle guidelines after noticing a dirty license plate not in the typical spot where license plates are kept on trucks.
Heyman later noticed a white substance on the back lift gate of the truck and asked Hartmann if it were milk, which he confirmed it was, according to court documents. Heyman opened the truck's rear door and saw milk and coolers, opened them and found cheese products and unprocessed milk with hand-written labels, according to court documents.
After inspecting the truck, Heyman talked to several MDA employees who told him they thought a crime was being committed. Heyman seized the evidence and told Hartmann he was free to leave after stopping him for 90 minutes, according to court documents.
Hartmann was charged with misbranding food in another complaint after the execution of a search warrant authorizing a Jan. 9, 2013 search of his farm. The search resulted in the seizure of milk, eggs, ice cream, computer units and documents, according to court documents.
Hartmann argued in court last fall that the evidence seized during the Dec. 4, 2012 search of his truck and Jan. 9, 2013 search of his farm violated his constitutional rights to be free from unreasonable search.
MacDonald ruled in October 2013 that the initial stop of Hartmann's 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. She ruled that the evidence seized in the search of Hartmann's farm was a violation of his constitutional rights.
"No matter how frustrated this Court of the State is with his disregard of the law or his word, the violation of constitutional rights can neither be tolerated or condoned," MacDonald wrote in her conclusion.
State officials searched Hartmann's farm in 2010 after people allegedly got sick from consuming his milk, cheese and ice cream. The agriculture department began to investigate after the health department established the farm was the source of an E. coli outbreak that required at least eight Minnesota residents to get medical treatment, according to court documents.
(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org).