A federal civil rights lawsuit was filed against San Juan County, Utah, and a local rancher by an environmental rights activist who alleges she was illegally detained and falsely accused in 2017.
Rose Chilcoat, filed the lawsuit this week as a result of the incident in 2017 when she and her husband Mark Franklin, both of Durango, Colo., were detained by rancher Zane Odell’s hands until sheriff’s deputies arrived at Odell’s corral. They later faced charges that they attempted to kill Odell’s cattle by shutting the gate to the corral where the water tank was located.
Charges against Chilcoat were later dropped, but Franklin plead no contest last week to Class A and Class B misdemeanor charges of “trespassing on State Trust Lands [with the intent to do harm].” The couple claim the case was brought as a form of retaliation for Chilcoat’s work with the environmental groups Great Old Broads for Wilderness and Friends of Cedar Mesa.
Chilcoat’s lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court in Utah states, “Under the Constitution, citizens have the right to express political viewpoints without retaliation by the government. They have the right not to be seized by the government, or persons acting on behalf of the government, without probable cause. They have the right not to have criminal charges filed against them based upon factual misrepresentations. In the case of Rose Chilcoat, all of these rights were violated.”
Originally, the San Juan County Attorney’s Office charged Chilcoat with two misdemeanors: one for trespassing on state trust lands and another for providing false information for identifying herself to police using her married name.
Six days after those initial charges, Chilcoat was issued two new felony charges: attempted wanton destruction of livestock and retaliation against a witness for a letter she sent to the Bureau of Land Management about rancher Odell’s cattle operation.
The lawsuit also seeks damages against Odell for making accusations against Chilcoat he knew to be false and for assault.
“Odell falsely stated to third parties that Ms. Chilcoat had beencaught ‘red-handed’ closing the gate and trying to kill his cattle,” the suit states. “Odell’s false allegations were widely publicized, and subjected Ms. Chilcoat to death threats and other excoriation.”