Thinking About Investigating Animal Cruelty? You Could Be Charged for it
What’s the best way to quash undercover animal cruelty investigators? Sure, “ag gag” laws work pretty well, but what if you’re in a state that hasn’t enacted one? No problem. Do what they just did in Colorado — charge the animal activist with the same cruelty she just uncovered and reported to police.
Surprised? You should be outraged.
This is exactly what’s going on in Weld County, Colo. On Nov. 13, Compassion Over Killing released heartbreaking video footage shot by undercover investigator Taylor Radig. Radig spent three months working inside the Quanah Cattle Co. in Kersey, Colo., in mid-2013 to try to document abuse. Quanah is in the business of buying newborn calves from dairy operations, holding them in veal bins onsite for a week or so, and then sending them off to be slaughtered for veal or raised for beef.
What Radig witnessed and managed to capture on video was the incredibly inhumane treatment of days-old dairy calves as they were moved in and out of this facility. Radig’s video shows Quanah workers dragging very young calves by their legs on and off trucks, pulling them by their ears, lifting them off the ground by their tails, kicking them, throwing them, slamming them down and flipping them. See it happen for yourself in COK’s video:
“If this facility had been a slaughter plant, the USDA would have shut them down,” said Dr. Temple Grandin, farmed animal handling expert, after reviewing COK’s video. It’s compelling evidence, and it resulted in charges against three Quanah workers within two days of the video’s public release.
However, Weld County Sheriff John Cooke — reportedly a 20-year veteran of the dairy industry before his law enforcement career — didn’t stop there. Despite Radig’s cooperation in bringing this abuse to local authorities’ attention, she found herself charged right along with the three Quanah workers for the same Class 1 misdemeanor offense. Clearly, someone was not pleased that this undercover work had been done so well.
What Does Colorado‘s Animal Cruelty Law Actually Say?
A review of these sections of Colorado’s law shows that a person is guilty of cruelty to animals if:
he or she knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence overdrives, overloads, overworks, torments, deprives of necessary sustenance, unnecessarily or cruelly beats, allows to be housed in a manner that results in chronic or repeated serious physical harm, carries or confines in or upon any vehicles in a cruel or reckless manner, engages in a sexual act with an animal, or otherwise mistreats or neglects any animal, or causes or procures it to be done, or, having the charge or custody of any animal, fails to provide it with proper food, drink, or protection from the weather consistent with the species, breed, and type of animal involved, or abandons an animal.
Colorado, please explain which part of this definition fits Taylor Radig’s actions? It is not, shall we say, obvious.
Perhaps the support for this charge comes from a somewhat tortured interpretation of the Section 18-9-201(3) definition of the term “mistreatment.” Mistreatment includes “every act or omission that causes or unreasonably permits the continuation of unnecessary or unjustifiable pain or suffering.” Is that it, Weld County? Really, is that all you’ve got?
It’s odd, then, to note that Colorado law also provides immunity in Section 18-9-209 from civil liability to anyone who, in good faith, reports suspected animal cruelty to local law enforcement.
According to the sheriff’s press release, ”The video footage was eventually provided to law enforcement by representatives of Compassion Over Killing approximately 2 months after Radig’s employment ended with Quanah Cattle Company.” However, “Radig’s failure to report the alleged abuse of the animals in a timely manner adheres to the definition of acting with negligence and substantiates the charge Animal Cruelty.”
No time limit is associated with reporting animal cruelty in Section 18-9-209, by the way.
The Possible Motive for Charging a Whistleblower with the Crime She Revealed
Cattle are big business in Colorado. There are more than 2.6 million head of cattle in the state, making this one of Colorado’s largest industries. Anything that gives this industry a black eye, causes costs to rise, or drives customers to flee are of great concern.
Understanding this reality means there’s likely no reasonable explanation for this turn of events, save one. Weld County wants to send a message to undercover animal welfare investigators: You and your agitating ways are not welcome here. Colorado may not have an “ag gag” law yet to prohibit what Taylor Radig did, but apparently with this maneuver authorities there don’t especially need one.
Compassion Over Killing executive director Erica Meier calls the charges against Radig “unsupported by the law.” She says this is a “shoot-the-messenger strategy aimed at detracting attention away from the crimes of those who actually abused animals.”
The Inevitable Chilling Effect
Presumably the Weld County Sheriff’s Office has the ability to understand the harmful effect it will cause by pursuing a whistleblower for investigating wrongdoing? Surely law enforcement understands the need to assemble evidence of a pattern of abusive activity in a way that allows criminal prosecution, where appropriate?
The chilling effect of this unprecedented action on those who might come forward with proof of abuse (undercover or not) is incalculable. Under this rationale, no one in Colorado has any way to understand whether the abuse information they want to bring forward is “too old” to safely report.
It’s a cagey move by those who apparently want to protect agribusiness interests in Colorado much more than they want to ensure decent treatment of farmed animals.
Come on, Weld County. Based on what you’ve told us so far, this legal maneuver is nothing short of ridiculous. Drop the charges against Taylor Radig. She’s the hero here. Don’t add Colorado law enforcement personnel to the list of villains in this story.
Care2 readers, if you‘d like to let the Weld County Sheriff know that you object to what‘s happening to Taylor Radig, sign this petition. We‘ll make sure it gets to Sheriff John Cooke so he‘ll know how you feel about what his office is doing.
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