A Vermont man who contracts with farmers to provide agricultural services firmly maintains he is innocent of assaulting a federal law enforcement officer with cow manure.
On Thursday, the defense attorney for Mark Johnson, 53, of Alburgh, entered not guilty pleas on two misdemeanor counts: one of simple assault on a law enforcement officer with bodily fluids and one of disorderly conduct.
The Grand Isle County State’s Attorney says Johnson, who provides various services to area farmers, including manure spreading, directed liquid cow manure from his spreader toward a cruiser with a U.S. Border Patrol agent inside.
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“He was definitely targeting that vehicle,” State’s Attorney Doug DiSabito said at Johnson’s arraignment in North Hero Thursday.
In court paperwork, Sheriff Ray Allen of Grand Isle County said Johnson has long been frustrated with federal authorities, and that was a reason for the alleged manure assault.
Johnson has often complained, Allen noted, that border patrol and immigration officers aren’t doing enough, in his eyes, about undocumented laborers on Vermont dairy farms.
Those migrant workers, often from Mexico, are generally considered critical to the state's agriculture sector and to getting food on the tables of people across the Northeast and beyond.
However, in Johnson’s view, he and his family have lost work and jobs to the migrants, court records show.
“I'm not guilty,” Johnson told necn shortly after the court hearing, describing the accusation that he targeted the cruiser with liquid manure. “What was said in court today was not the truth. People need to know the truth.”
Johnson insisted that dirtying the car was unintentional; that some of his load merely sloshed out as he drove past the cruiser.
The Border Patrol agent acknowledged in a report filed with the court that his parked cruiser had been at least partially blocking an access road to a field where Johnson was working to spread manure.
Johnson’s rig can hold 5,250 gallons of liquid manure, according to markings on the side of it.
Because of that capacity, Johnson told necn that if he had truly planned a crime, the cruiser would've been basically black.
Photographs obtained by the Islander newspaper showed that one could still clearly see the markings on the cruiser, despite the splotches of manure.
In another photo included in paperwork from the sheriff’s department, the front of the Border Patrol vehicle appeared mostly clean.
In his report filed with the court, Border Patrol Agent Robert Rocheleau described Johnson using swear words while accusing him of not doing enough to address violations of immigration policy.
Rocheleau said Johnson told the agent that he was being “squeezed” due to work lost to migrants.
The agent noted in his report that he told Johnson if he is unhappy with the authorities’ handling of immigration issues, he should “write to his congressman.”
Rocheleau said in the report he filed with the court that he heard Johnson revving the tractor’s engine aggressively and described Johnson operating the tractor “violently” to get a wave of manure to slosh out in his direction.
Johnson suggested in brief remarks to necn following his arraignment that the agent’s version of events was exaggerated. He firmly maintained he is innocent.
As the court case proceeds, Judge Michael Harris ordered Johnson to stay away from the Border Patrol agent.
Stephanie Malin, a spokeswoman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection in the northeast, told the Associated Press that prosecutors are handling the case.
If found guilty of both of the charges, Johnson could face a maximum punishment of six months and 60 days in prison, and a $1,000 fine.