In the latest news in the ongoing raw-milk legal saga, 65-year-old James Stewart, founder of Rawesome Foods in Los Angeles County, California, was strong-armed on July 26 by a trio of tough-looking men in street clothes driving unmarked luxury cars who handcuffed him and then slammed him against the back of a car, pressing his face up against the window.
Rawesome Foods is a members-only co-op that specializes in unprocessed foods, including raw milk.
“Why are you treating me so horribly,” the visibly shaken Stewart asked, as someone videotaped what the trio repeatedly referred to as ‘an arrest.’
As he was led to the back seat of the car, Stewart, his voice breaking with emotion, told the person videotaping the scene, “They’re arresting me.”
From there, he was taken to the Ventura County Jail, where a court officer described him as a “flight risk” and refused to grant bail.
Turns out that the three men were members of a bond bailsman retrieval team, which in California have certain police powers, among them the ability to arrest people who have jumped bail. And it turns out that Stewart had, in fact, jumped bail, having failed to show up for two court appearances.
In one of cases, he was out on a $30,000 bail in Los Angeles County on charges of illegally selling raw milk. In the other, he was out of a $100,000 bail in Ventura County on charges of illegally raising funds for Sharon Palmer’s Healthy Family Farms, according to an article in The Complete Patient.
Palmer supplies Rawesome Foods with raw goat milk and other dairy products from what is known as a ‘herdshare.’ Under a herdshare arrangement, the members don’t consider themselves as buying the milk since they own the animals. Palmer has no license to sell raw milk in California, a state which does allow retail sales of raw milk but which also has very strict laws governing raw-milk production and sales.
Adding another dimension to this drama, raw-milk dairy farmer Mark McAfee, owner of Organic Pastures, the largest raw-milk producer in the nation, was the person who put up $100,000 in personal collateral for the bond in Venice County. In doing so, he put his house on the line, knowing that if Stewart failed to make the necessary court appearances, he could lose his home.
In an interview with Food Safety News after Stewart’s July 26 arrest, McAfee said that he had contacted the bond company because Stewart had told him he wasn’t going to attend the hearings.
“He refused to do that,” McAfee said. “He said he’d go into hiding.”
Stewart told Natural News that McAfee was there at the arrest and watched him being taken away by the bail-bond trio.
McAfee confirmed that, saying that he was the one who found Stewart.
“I was the one who hired the bail agents to arrest James,” he said.
According to the Complete Patient article, the bail bond agents and McAfee tried to convince Stewart both the day before the arrest and the day of the arrest to turn himself in. But their pleas were in vain.
“I didn’t want to lose my house,” McAfee said, in explaining why he had contacted and worked with the bail bondsmen.
McAfee said Stewart had fired the highly qualified lawyer working on the case and opted instead to work with what McAfee described as a “non-lawyer type” from Las Vegas. He had apparently bought into the notion of the ‘sovereign man,’ which urges people to claim their ‘Common Law Inherent Rights’ and defend themselves against “all levels of abuse from Government and Statutes.”
“It is my opinion that James is frail and naive-minded and follows people’s advice who are not ethical and conspiracy-theory oriented,” McAfee said.
And while McAfee quickly said he is relieved that Stewart has been arrested with no chance of posting bond because that means his home is no longer on the line, he said he’s also sad that Stewart didn’t go through the proper legal channels to fight for his rights.
Stewart, meanwhile, said he had been “tortured” when he was arrested in 2011, a year in which he was arrested twice. In a 2012 video, he told Mike Adams, editor of Natural News, about the treatment he received in the L.A. County Jail. In a subsequent article by Adams, he said that he was afraid that if he was taken back to jail, he would be tortured, subjected to starvation or even murdered by the authorities there.
In that article, Adams said that James had told him many times that “if they say I committed suicide, it means they killed me, Mike. They’re gonna try to kill me.”
Stewart’s second arrest in 2011 followed an early-morning raid on August 3 on Rawesome Foods, when he was taken away in handcuffs and held on a felony offense, according to a piece written by Adam Helfer of Omkara World, which appeared in The Washington Times Communities.
Two others, Sharon Palmer and Victoria Blcoh, a Weston A. Price Foundation volunteer chapter leader, were also arrested that day. All of the arrests were based on criminal conspiracy charges stemming from “the alleged illegal production and sale of unpasteurized goat milk, goat cheese and other products.”
Raw milk is milk that hasn’t been pasteurized to kill potentially harmful bacteria. Raw milk advocates believe that unpasteurized milk offers human health benefits that include the prevention, or even the cure, for ailments such as allergies, diabetes, autism and cancer.
However, the United States Food and Drug Administration warns against drinking raw milk, saying that it can contain harmful, or even potentially deadly bacteria, such as E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella and Campylobacter.
Like others caught up in the legal battle over raw milk, Helfer sees government actions against raw milk as troubling signs that go to the core of people’s rights here in this country.
“This is not just a case and situation that pertains only to raw milk drinkers and organic food buyers,” Helfer warns in his opinion piece about Stewart’s August 2011 arrest. “This is a blatant case in point of federal government abusing its power and authority. If the federal government is allowed to convene in this manner, what’s next?”
None other than The New Yorker weighed in on this issue of individual freedoms in an April 30, 2012, piece by Dana Goodyear. An abstract of the piece concludes with comments about a conversation Goodyear had with Mark McAfee, owner of Organic Pastures.
“To many in the national food-freedom movement, raw milk is the test case,” says the last sentence of the abstract.
When asked if there’s a take-home message about raw milk in California in the recent arrest of Stewart, McAfee shared some thoughts.
“This is about the irrational conduct of one person: James,” he said. “Raw milk is 100 percent legal in California, and it is not going to jeopardize that fact or do anything to disrupt this critical and healing food source. The take-home message has nothing to do with the law and raw milk. It has to do with personal choices.”
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article stated that the arrest of James Stewart took place in Ventura, CA. However, Stewart was arrested in Venice, CA in Los Angeles County. The article has been updated to reflect this information.© Food Safety News