Dave Cawley, Deseret News
FILE - The view on Utah SR-95, at the edge of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in San Juan County. A two-year-old ranching dispute involving cattle, a locked gate in San Juan County and criminal case brought against an activist and her husband has now turned into a civil action, with a lawsuit filed Wednesday against San Juan County.

SALT LAKE CITY — An environmental activist says she was wrongly prosecuted for her political views in a tumultuous case that led her to fear for her safety, incur unwarranted legal costs and suffer distress for the violation of her constitutional rights.

Rosalie Chilcoat filed a lawsuit Wednesday in U.S. District Court of Utah against San Juan County, its county attorney, Kendall G. Laws, and rancher Zane Odell, asserting false statements were made by Laws and Odell in a criminal case that was ultimately reversed by the Court of Appeals for lack of evidence.

"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," the complaint reads.

"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," it says.

The lawsuit asserts Odell was acting at the direction of the San Juan County Sheriff's Office when he illegally detained her two years ago and publicly accused her of attempting to kill his cattle.

"The suffering that an innocent person undergoes when they are falsely charged is unspeakable. I would not wish that on anyone," she said in an interview Wednesday.

"I also want some accountability so something like this cannot happen to someone else whose ideals might be different from those who hold power."

A sheriff's report at the time said cattle had been cut off from a water source via a locked gate and there was surveillance from a camara and footprints at the scene. A few days later, according to the report, the rancher saw a car that matched the vehicle caught on tape, stopped it and called authorities.

Chilcoat and Mark Kevin Franklin, her husband, were later charged in 7th District Court. She was charged with trespassing on state trust lands involving an animal enterprise, a class A misdemeanor, and giving false personal information to a peace officer, a class C misdemeanor.

Franklin was charged with attempted wanton destruction of livestock, a second-degree felony, and trespassing on state trust lands, a class A misdemeanor.

According to the sheriff's press release, Franklin admitted to shutting the gate.

Earlier this month, Franklin pleaded no contest to a pair of misdemeanor charges. The pleas will be held in abeyance for one year and then dismissed. Franklin was ordered by the court to pay a $1,000 fine and get permission from San Juan County before entering any land owned by the school trust lands administration, which owned the lands where the cattle dispute took place.

14 comments on this story

Chilcoat says she was being punished by Odell and San Juan County for her anti-grazing views as a former leader of the environmental organization, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, and as a member of the board of directors of Friends of Cedar Mesa.

"Being a conservation advocate seems to be at the root whatever drove this criminal case to be filed against me and my husband," she said.

Chilcoat is asking for an award of punitive damages and compensation for her legal costs.

"...The whole criminal prosecution by San Juan County and Kendall Laws has been hideously expensive and I want to be made whole for that."