Federal court orders property seized in immigration raid returned to Koch Foods

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Koch Foods’ property seized in August 2019 by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents from the company’s chicken processing plant in Morton, MS, must be returned, according to U.S. District Court Judge Carlton W. Reeves.

Koch was one of several USDA-inspected poultry processors in Mississippi targeted in this past summer’s immigration raid, the largest of its kind in a single state. ICE arrested 680 people at seven Mississippi poultry plants. Half the arrest s– 342 — were made in Morton.

With 1,170 employees, Koch is Morton’s largest poultry producer. Based in Illinois, Koch Foods has no affiliation with either the Koch brothers or the Kansas-based energy and manufacturing conglomerate known as Koch Industries.

Attorneys for Koch Foods did not wait around to see what might happen next. Before the month was out, Koch sued the federal government, charging the search and seizure carried out on Aug. 7, 2019, was not supported by any lawful probable cause.

Koch contends the raid violated the company’s Forth Amendment protection that promises to keep business establishments from unlawful searches and seizures by the U.S. government.

“The United States is not allowed to execute these workplace search warrants on suspicion,” the Koch civil acton said.

The ICE agent who obtained the warrant for the raid on Koch Foods did not provide information from any source claiming illegal behavior at the Morton processing facility. It was based only on a presumption because ICE had previously deported people who once worked at Koch Foods at Morton. Koch argued the raid last August relied on “baseless and discriminatory” assumptions about Koch employees.

Koch also said ICE viewed employees with ankle bracelets as a “scarlet letter” of lack of authorization to work in the United States. Instead, of just being an indication of someone under a deportation order, ankle bracelets are being used by “any number of courts from various jurisdictions.”

But mainly with the federal government having no evidence that Koch Foods knowingly hired unauthorized aliens, its lawyers just wanted the return of property taken.

“The investigation and thereby the search was conducted with the purpose of gathering evidence that either the entity, Koch Foods, or the individuals working at Koch Foods knowingly engaged in illegal hiring of this type,” the complaint said.

Earlier this year, the U.S. District Court for Southern Mississippi granted Koch Foods’ motion to have its seized property returned. The court said the evidence showed Koch Foods needed the original seized documents to continue its business operations. The government was permitted to retain copies.

Later, the government returned to court asking that it “be relieved from the obligation to return the originals” because files in their original form may be needed as evidence at any trial.

In the alterantive, the government asked for more time because of “illegible or distorted” pages. And it wanted Koch to pay for the copies.

After a discussion of numerous court rules that apply after an unlawful search and seizure of property, Judge Reeves denied the government’s request, ordering the Koch property be returned.

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