DATCP Trespasses on Local Farmer’s Property, Collects Evidence Without a Warrant, and Violates Basic Bio-security Protocol Endangering the Health of Animals They are Supposedly Protecting
On May 5, 2010, Melissa Cochran, Animal Health Inspector for the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection made an unauthorized and unannounced visit to the property of Michael and Patricia Schneider near Viroqua, WI. The DATCP agent drove onto the property and walked halfway across the 18 acre farm without permission to discuss mandatory premises registration with the owner. The Schneider’s have never had any contact with DATCP in the past and have not registered their premises. DATCP did not try to contact the Schneider’s via phone or US Mail before the visit. The DATCP agent tried to convince Mrs. Schneider to “Give her permission” for DATCP to assign a number to the Schneider property. Mrs. Schneider declined and the agent left after threatening her with a $5000 fine.
In a phone call May 6, 2010, recorded with Ms. Cochran’s permission, Mr. Schneider asked Ms. Cochran why with State budget cuts and furloughs, did DATCP send an agent in person rather than just mailing the paperwork. She replied that she was visiting many farms in the area that were on the DATCP list. She also acknowledged that she hadn’t disinfected her footwear before walking halfway across the Schneider property after visiting other farms she refused to name. This represents a major bio-security breach for Schneider who informed her that he has had no health or illness issues on his property to date, but that any heath or illness issues he may have in the future would be attributed to her unauthorized visit and lack of basic bio-security protocol; and he said that DATCP would be held liable for any damages. In the same phone call, Cochran acknowledged Schneider’s two “No Trespassing” signs, and that she knowingly trespassed on his property because she felt the trespassing law didn’t pertain to her and she acknowledged collecting evidence against Schneider without a warrant in the form of observations and notes that she anticipated using in court if he didn’t register his premises.
At the end of the phone call, Mr. Schneider informed her that she was indeed trespassing and that the law did apply to her. He made it very clear that he had not and will not express or imply permission for her or anyone from DATCP or any other government agency to be on his private property now or in the future, and told her that if she wanted to come back, she better bring the county sheriff and a properly obtained search warrant, and a footbath to comply with his bio-security protocol. He also let her know that evidence obtained without a search warrant is not admissible in court.
On February 25, 2009 Polk County District Attorney Dan Steffen filed a complaint against Monchilovich and his wife Melissa, seeking civil forfeiture for refusing to register his premises with the state. The civil forfeiture complaint against the Monchiloviches is the second time DATCP has taken action against a farmer refusing to comply with the premises identification requirement. On October 2, 2008, Clark County District Attorney Darwin Zweig filed a complaint seeking civil forfeiture against Amish farmer Emanuel Miller of Loyal who refused the premises ID number because taking it would violate his religious beliefs.
Michael Schneider was quoted as saying, “They (DATCP) break the law while supposedly trying to enforce a law, they violate basic bio-security protocols (jeopardizing animal health) while supposedly trying to insure faster response to a disease outbreak that threatens animals or public health, meanwhile over 60,000 state employees are taking furlough days to balance the budget… I can’t believe they have the money to drive around and harass people… I can’t believe they are using my tax dollars to do this.”
On April 1, 2009 Representative Scott Suder (R-Abbotsford) introduced legislation (LRB-2259/1) that would overturn the state’s mandatory premises registration law for anyone keeping livestock on their property. Wisconsin is one of only two states that require premises identification by statute or regulation with Indiana being the other. His legislation never made it out of committee in the last session which recently ended.
DATCP has not filed a formal complaint against the Schneider’s or any other Vernon County farmers to date, but DATCP is applying pressure with surprise visits and threats of fines to local farmers.