Before I explore the latest controversy to have come out of Tuesday’s highly public raid of the Hartmann Farm delivery, I should report that the Hartmann Farm, half a dozen of its customers, and the Foundation for Consumer Free Choice have filed suit in state court against the state to seek return of confiscated product and an end to “harassing and malicious prosecution.”  They charge the Minnesota Department of Agriculture with having “intentionally introduced this chaos in hopes of creating conflicting decisions, increasing Respondents costs to defend himself, and to advance multiple theories of liability. Serial prosecutions for the same alleged offenses, are an abuse of process, and can have no legitimate purpose…”

The matter of “harassing and malicious prosecution” can be summed up in a small but very controversial matter that has come up since the seizure of Hartmann milk on Tuesday.

Most people who have viewed the video from the Tuesday raid on the milk being delivered by the Hartmann Farm to buyers in suburban Minneapolis have noticed near the end the handicapped parking placard hanging from the front-seat mirror in the Jeep Cherokee used to haul some of the milk away. They have also noticed that the two MDA investigators who took the milk from the Hartmann truck and loaded it into the station wagon did not appear to be handicapped—or at least not handicapped enough that they had trouble walking briskly carrying several big coolers loaded down with milk.

I made a disparaging remark in my original post about the placard being “a nice touch,” based on my initial assumption that the placard was part of a disguise allowing the MDA agent to operate plain-clothes-like and gain easy access to businesses that might be under his jurisdiction. But since the video came out, there’s been a fair amount of discussion on listserves, with most comments I’ve seen believing the placard belonged to the agent. That certainly seems to make more sense, but then the question that comes up is this: was the agent driving his personal vehicle, with the handicapped placard belonging to himself or a family member, or was he driving a state vehicle and using the placard for himself?

A few of the listserve comments from Minnesota raw milk drinkers have been surprisingly conciliatory, expressing understanding for the agent that he or his family might need a handicapped placard. “People with handicaps don’t always ‘look’ the part. …Condemning him in a public way still does not help the cause. Do we want our children – those who witnessed slanderous comments from adults – to judge whether a person’s handicap/sticker is valid?”

I decided to inquire with the MDA, and a spokesperson refused to provide any information about why the investigator was carrying out a police action (serving a search warrant accompanied by local police) in a car with a prominently displayed handicapped parking placard. “I’m not at liberty to explain details of an ongoing investigation,” he said.

Well, I for one am not sympathetic either to the investigator or to the MDA’s refusal to comment. I’m sorry if he or a family member is handicapped, but driving to a police action with a handicapped placard is inappropriate and, perhaps more important, he and the MDA need to be called on it. For one thing, it’s deceptive. Are the targets of the investigation supposed to assume the guy confiscating their property is handicapped and they should be extra considerate of him? Or, if the targets were serious criminals, are they to assume they can easily resist his confiscation of their property because he’s handicapped?

Showing up at a police raid with a handicapped placard could also suggest the guy is flouting the law. If you’ve ever used a handicapped placard (and I have, in driving my mother around during the last couple years of her life, when she could barely walk), you know the protocol is that you only use the placard if you absolutely have to—if there isn’t any regular parking nearby, and you can’t walk a long distance. Otherwise, you leave the one or two handicapped spaces for those most seriously handicapped. And a family member who doesn’t need the placard never uses it when the handicapped person isn’t in the car.

Since this investigator didn’t need a handicapped parking spot for his raid, I can only assume he had been using the placard at other places, or else uses it all the time, whether he needs to or not.

Why am I harping on this? Because the MDA is looking for every technicality and bringing every weapon at its disposal to destroy Michael Hartmann, and destroy his customers’ food. The MDA is also accusing Hartmann of being sloppy. The agency has used questionable legal tactics in prohibiting Hartmann from delivering milk, and has gone search-warrant-shopping to harass his dairy—the citizens suing MDA say the state has purposely gone to four different judges for its four search warrants in connection with the case, in hopes that each new judge can be easily convinced to issue a warrant by virtue of knowing little about the case.

And the state has obviously stooped to penetrating the Hartmann buying group with an informer or undercover agent who is relaying information to the authorities. How else would they have been alerted about the delivery on Tuesday?

The MDA’s targets, in my judgment, are entitled to be just as tough. The time for being nice is over. Indeed, the nicer Minnesotans are to these bullies, the more they’ll take it for weakness, and do more bullying. I don’t care how you slice it, an enforcement agent showing up at a raid in a car with a handicapped placard dangling from the mirror is slopping, inappropriate, and dangerous.  Indeed, what about showing up in a private vehicle to begin with? Is he doing that so he gets a mileage allowance? Combat pay? Or just being lazy?

As more than one person has said here, this is war, and in warfare, you must respond with every weapon at your disposal. We have rules in our police and legal system, and I guarantee you they don’t include showing up at a raid with a handicapped parking placard, any more than they allow unnecessary search warrants. The MDA should, as part of its “investigation,” be investigating why one of its officers was misusing a handicapped parking placard in an enforcement action.  And Hartmann customers should be insisting on answers to their questions, demanding professionalism and an end to official theft of people’s food.