First Ag-Gag prosecution filed — and dropped

Posted by Christine, April 30, 2013

The case was dropped, as reported in the Salt Lake Tribune:

One day after the case made headlines, Draper prosecutors have dismissed a misdemeanor against an animal-welfare activist who filmed a Utah slaughterhouse.

Prosecutors on Tuesday dropped the case against Amy Meyer, who had faced a class B misdemeanor for agricultural-operation interference. Prosecutors filed the charge in Draper’s justice court Feb. 19 after Meyer used her cellphone to record the Dale T. Smith and Sons Meat Packing Co. 11 days earlier.

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The case was the first to be prosecuted under Utah’s “ag gag” law, which passed the state Legislature in 2012. Under the law, it became illegal to record an agricultural operation while trespassing or entering the premises on false pretenses.

Prosecutor Benjamin Rasmussen said his office moved to dismiss the case after he received new evidence during a hearing April 18. At the hearing, Rasmussen explained, Meyer, 25, provided video footage showing that she was on public property during at least some of the time she was recording the slaughterhouse. Rasmussen added that other footage left Meyer’s position ambiguous but he nevertheless decided to drop the case.

“I determined that in interest of justice I wouldn’t pursue the matter,” he said.

Meyer said Tuesday evening that she had been confident in her case but was relieved by the dismissal.

“I thought it might take more of a fight,” she added.

The dismissal comes a day after the case shot to national attention. Monday morning, a journalist broke the story in a piece about Meyer on the website Green is the New Red. Meyer’s defense attorney, Stewart Gollan, said later in the day that he had received numerous inquires about the case from national and Utah media.

Rasmussen said the media interest did not have bearing on his decision to dismiss the case. He also said that he believes the case was originally screened by his office for agricultural-operation interference charges at the request of the officer who filed the initial report.

Prosecutors have the option to refile the case if new evidence turns up, though Rasmussen said he does not anticipate doing that.

 

The first known prosecution under the Utah “ag-gag” law against producing images of meat production facilities without authorization was filed on February 19,  concerning an incident that occurred on February 8,  but only came to light on April 29.

Amy Meyer,  25,  was charged in Draper,  Utah,  on February 19,  2013,  eleven days after using her cell phone to document conditions at the Dale T. Smith & Sons Meat Packing Company.  Meyer contends she never went beyond a public sidewalk,  on the outside of a barbed wire fence surrounding the Smith & Sons facility.

The Smith & Sons slaughterhouse is co-owned by Draper mayor Darrell H. Smith.  Defense attorney Stewart Gollan told Jim Dalrymple II of the Salt Lake Tribune that judges in the Draper Justice Court are appointed by the mayor with assent of the town council.

Amy Meyer’s statement is here:

http://fox13now.com/2013/04/29/statement-amy-meyer-on-charges-for-recording-slaughterhouse/

The police report is here:

http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/56235040-78/meyer-gollan-company-meat.html.csp

Will Potter’s report,  the first published account of the case,  is here:

http://www.greenisthenewred.com/blog/first-ag-gag-arrest-utah-amy-meyer/6948/

Jim Dalrymple II’s report for the Salt Lake City Tribune is here:

http://www.sltrib.com/csp/cms/sites/sltrib/pages/printerfriendly.csp?id=56235040

The most recent ANIMAL PEOPLE backgrounder on ag-gag laws is here:

http://www.animalpeoplenews.org/anp/2013/03/25/farm-animal-cruelty-convictions-lead-to-ag-gag-laws-rather-than-reform/

The most comprehensive ANIMAL PEOPLE backgrounder on the evolution undercover videography in animal agribusiness facilities is here:

Cell phone video cams open factory farms to public view
http://www.animalpeoplenews.org/10/6/June10.htm

(Scroll about 3/4 of the way down the page to get to it.)

The meat industry trade journal Meatingplace recently published a three-part series called “Who ‘Ag-Gag’ laws truly protect,”  by Emily Meredith,  communications director for the Animal Agriculture Alliance:
<news@newsletters.meatingplace.com>

Her “nut graph”:

States including New Hampshire, Wyoming and Arkansas are the most recent in a slew of legislative battleground states where the animal agriculture industry, and those that support it, have faced off against the likes of HSUS, PETA, Mercy for Animals, and ASPCA. Why are these groups so interested in this legislation?  The answer is simple—this legislation would destroy any opportunities the above-referenced groups would have to film, photograph or otherwise exploit farmers, ranchers or processors.

Merritt Clifton, editor of Animal People, says:

My perspective:

The most insidious aspect of ag-gag legislation may be the meat industry claim that they are meant to compel undercover investigators to immediately turn over images of illegal abuse to law enforcement agencies.  This is presented to legislators and the public as an indication that the meat industry is serious about stopping the violence against animals on their way to slaughter that has repeatedly been exposed by undercover video,  and has resulted in recent successful prosecutions of abusive workers in at least four U.S. states and the United Kingdom.

But,  as Mercy for Animals founder Nathan Runkle has pointed out,  having directed more undercover videography operations against the meat industry than all other animal advocacy groups combined,  undercover investigators have seen nominally illegal violence against animals within days,  if not hours,  at practically every facility they have ever infiltrated.

(Parenthetically,  I saw plenty of this sort of thing too,  during the decade that I covered animal agriculture for rural newspapers,  years before anyone ever did undercover videography of it.  The first person to do undercover videography at stockyards and slaughterhouses was Becky Sandstedt in St. Paul in 1990.)

Immediately reporting abusive incidents would preclude documenting the extent to which they are a pervasive pattern,  ignored if not actually condoned or even encouraged by management.

In addition,  immediately reporting potentially illegal abuses would expose the identity of the undercover operatives––which is exactly what the meat industry wants:  to identify and exclude any employees who might expose not only overt abuses,  but also the routine abuse that is inherent in practices such as macerating alive the newly hatched males of egg-laying poultry breeds,  and castrating and clipping the teeth of piglets without anesthesia.

Idaho,  Kansas,  Missouri,  Montana,  North Dakota,  Tennessee,  and  Utah now have ag-gag legislation.  At least seven other states considered ag-gag bills during spring 2013 legislative sessions.

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