A meat processor in Montana is alleging that state livestock agents illegally searched his property after suspending his license in 2013 and then had him arrested after the man called the police to accuse the agents of trespassing. Garry Wheelock of Montana City Meats has filed a lawsuit against the Montana Department of Livestock, former agency executive officer Christian Mackay and meat inspection bureau chief Gary Hamel. Wheelock's claims include violations of his constitutional rights to due process and equal protection, intentional interference with his business, trespassing and defamatory statements, reports the Helena Independent Record.

Montana City Meats is a custom exempt plant.  The incident between Wheelock and the agents occurred after a complaint of mislabled meat from a customer. Because of his custom exempt license, the meat he sold at farmers' markets must be slaughtered, packaged and labeled at a different plant, but Wheelock was putting labels on the meat at his own facility, stated a former employee of the department.

In July 2013, Wheelock's license was suspended for 90 days after Hamel and three other agents visited the plant. Hamel wrote in a letter following that visit that he and the agents found fly infestations, maggots and other violations. Portions of the letter appeared in media reports.

The agency did not respond to Wheelock's requests for documents on the suspension and it denied him the right to appeal, the lawsuit alleges.

After Wheelock made a public-records request for the documents he was seeking, Hamel and armed livestock inspectors searched his home and plant without a warrant, according to the lawsuit. Wheelock called police to report trespassers on his property, but Wheelock himself was arrested on assault and unlawful restraint charges. The charges were later dropped.

Attorneys for the state have until next month to file a response to the lawsuit.

Source: Helena Independent Record