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 Colorados Animal Cruelty Law Actually Say?

According to a press release from the Weld County Sheriff’s Office, “Colorado Revised Statutes 18-9-201 and 18-9-202 outline the definitions and descriptions of the crime of Animal Cruelty.”

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.

Cattle worker dragging calf by its tail.

Quanah Cattle Co. worker dragging calf by its tail. Photo courtesy of Compassion Over Killing

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 youd like to let the Weld County Sheriff know that you object to whats happening to Taylor Radig, sign this petition. Well make sure it gets to Sheriff John Cooke so hell know how you feel about what his office is doing.

Photo Credit: Thinkstock


Jim Ven
Jim V2 years ago

thanks for the article.

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing

Kevin W.
Kevin W4 years ago

In most states, laws and ifrastructure are in place to investigate and prosecute animal cruelty. If a civilan wants to trespass on private property or gain access under false pretenses then they risk being prosecuted for their actions. Imagine someone getting hired by the NSA, CIA or Dept. of Defense or a defense contractor and working to find evidence of activity which they feel is morally reprehensible and then releasing that info to the public ( Edward Snowden for example). Lobby your elected officals to hire animal weelfare investigators who make unannounced visits to livestock operations to ensure proper treatment of animals. In the case citied in this article 3 people were prosecuted but the facility could resume cruel animal treatment again the next day.

Janis K.
Janis K4 years ago

This is so wrong. We should be rewarding the whistle blowers!

Deborah W.
Deborah W4 years ago

When people continue to act this way what chance do the no-voice no-choice have in this world we live in? Petitions seldom change the ways of the world ... signed and on to the next tragedy. Feel better?

Jess No Fwd Plz K.
Jessica K4 years ago

Based on what I'm reading here on Colorado law (no ag gag rules, immunity for those who report abuse in good faith, no time limit to do so), there is no reason for Radig to be charged. It's possible Weld County law officials decided she utilized whistleblower status after the fact, which is why she was charged at all, but state law seems to be on Radig's side on this one. Thanks.

Lynn C.
Lynn C4 years ago


christina r.
christina r4 years ago

You monsters are horrid and disgusting. I truly hope you get what's coming to and you get it BAD! I am a meat eater and have no shame in eating meat but I think what you do goes beyond being inhumane, you're just a bunch of sick bastards that get off on this. You're cowards to have to pick on something that is innocent, helpless and a baby on top of that. I can only imagine how you sick monsters treat your wives and children. I hope a judge does convict you on animal cruelty charges. We will get this petition signed in no time.

Deborah W.
Deborah W4 years ago

Weld County Sheriff John Cooke ... 20-yr. veteran of the dairy industry prior to his present post. 'Nuf said.

Petitions won't cut it, industry and the money it brings in, plus unsupervised work forces or enforcement of cruelty where there is supposedly "humane" treatment going on couldn't stand a hit. And by the way, we all own part of this perpetuating tragedy ... unless you eat dirt.

Rosemary H.
Rosemary H4 years ago

Shocking! I can't bear to watch the video - but I'm glad veal crates are banned in the UK!

I know some activist films (some, not all) are altered one way or another to make the cruelty appear worse. Then the folk in charge get uptight because they have been accused of something worse than the truth. Possibly this is why such laws are created.

I don't know - I haven't heard of laws like it in Britain - but if you are an activist filming undercover, it must help the animals more in the long run if you keep it strictly factual. Meanwhile,. may common sense prevail!