MASON, Mich. Charges have been dismissed against a Lenawee County farmer accused of making obscene calls to a Michigan Department of Agriculture hot line.
Gerald Henning, 82, had called the hot line dozens of times since 2001 to complain about a manure stench from a nearby dairy farm in Hudson Township, 25 miles south of Jackson. He pleaded no contest in June to charges of breaking a state law that prohibits using “vulgar, indecent, obscene or offensive language.”
A no contest plea is not an admission of guilt but is treated as such for sentencing. Henning was fined $250 and could have received up to 30 days in jail.
As part of his plea agreement with Ingham County prosecutors, Henning retained the right to fight the charges on grounds they violated his First Amendment right to free speech. Ingham County Circuit Judge Paula Manderfield agreed with Henning in dismissing the charges on Feb. 19.
“The only reason I ever called there and left those messages is that I wanted some enforcement, and they were doing absolutely nothing,” Henning told the Lansing State Journal for a Feb. 20 story. “You get angry when you live next to something that smells that bad.”
The $250 fine will be refunded to Henning.
The newspaper said it could not reach Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III for comment. But Dunnings has said the repetitive and menacing nature of Henning’s calls was reason enough to prosecute.
State officials eventually visited the dairy farm near Henning’s home and eventually placed it under monitoring by the Department of Environmental Quality.