Feb. 16, 2012 — -- Six workers at a Butterball turkey farm in North Carolina face criminal charges after an undercover video revealed alleged animal abuse, and a state employee who tipped off Butterball before a police raid on the farm has pled guilty to obstruction of justice.
Three workers have been arrested, according to Hoke County officials. Terry Johnson has been charged with misdemeanor cruelty to animals, Ruben Mendoza has been charged with animal cruelty and felony identity theft, and Jose Garcia has been charged with felony identity theft. Three other workers are being sought on animal cruelty charges.
Mercy for Animals, the animal rights group that shot the undercover video, said there had been no insider information about abuse at the facility before the tape was made. "Unfortunately, every time we send an investigator they emerge with shocking evidence of animal abuse," said MFA executive director Nathan Runkle.
"Butterball allowed a culture of cruelty and abuse to fester at its company-owned factory farms," alleged Runkle. "Before ending up in restaurants and grocery stores, turkeys killed for Butterball are routinely crowded into filthy warehouses, neglected to die from infected, bloody wounds, and thrown, kicked, and beaten by factory farm workers."
In addition, Dr. Sarah Mason, a veterinarian at the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, was suspended from her job starting Monday, and was sentenced to 45 days in the Hoke County jail after pleading guilty to obstructing justice and obstructing a public officer. Mason admitted calling a friend who worked at Butterball prior to the raid. Her sentence was suspended and she will be on unsupervised probation, but she will be required to take two ethics courses.
Hoke County detectives raided the Butterball turkey farm on Dec. 28 after seeing hidden camera video shot by Mercy for Animals. An MFA activist had worked undercover at the farm for three weeks and documented what the group called "acts of violence and severe neglect." In the video, workers can be seen kicking and stomping on turkeys, as well as dragging them by their wings and necks. The video also shows injured birds with open wounds and exposed flesh. During the December raid, officials inspected 2,800 turkeys, seizing 28 and euthanizing four.
Officials later raised questions about phone calls between government officials and Butterball days before the raid. They charged that Dr. Mason, the Director of Animal Health Programs at the Agriculture Department, had called a Butterball veterinarian on Dec. 23 and allegedly informed him that there was an investigation into the farm. Details of the pending raid, according to prosecutors at the Hoke County District Attorney's office, were supposed to be "treated as confidential, and should not be disclosed."
Though she initially denied talking to the Butterball employee, Dr. Mason later admitted telling him about the existence of the Mercy for Animals video showing alleged abuse, and telling him that the video had been given to a county prosecutor.