Sher­iff: Abuse video should have been turned in ear­lier

Un­der­cover in­ves­ti­ga­tor was try­ing to get to other parts of farm, group says.

The Palm Beach Post - - LOCAL & BUSINESS - By Su­san Sal­is­bury Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

The un­der­cover an­i­mal cru­elty in­ves­tiga­tive group that recorded al­leged abuse at Lar­son Dairy should have given the video to the sher­iff ’s of­fice sooner in­stead of con­tin­u­ing to record at the farm for three weeks, Okeechobee County Sher­iff Noel Stephen said Mon­day.

A sur­veil­lance video re­leased Thurs­day by An­i­mal Re­cov­ery Mis­sion of Miami Beach shot at Lar­son Dairy shows work­ers kick­ing cows in the head and torso, punch­ing their ud­ders and beat­ing them with a steel rod in­side the barn and milk­ing stalls.

The case is un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Stephen said. No ar­rests have been made, al­though one of the three work­ers shown mis­treat­ing the cows has been fired and two have been sus­pended.

Stephen said he watched the video fol­low­ing a press con­fer­ence he held Thurs­day at 3:15 p.m. Ear­lier that same day, at 11:30 a.m., Stephen re­ceived a FedEx en­ve­lope that in­cluded still pho­tos and the video that showed three in­di­vid­u­als kick­ing and hit­ting cows, some­times with a weapon, at Lar­son Dairy.

“I re­ally wish the in­di­vid­u­als who recorded the video would have given the video to OCSO at the time, be­cause the abuse prob­a­bly con­tin­ued, un­nec­es­sar­ily, up

un­til that time. It was un­for­tu­nately pub­li­cized be­fore it was ever re­ported,” Stephen said in a state­ment.

“Ac­cord­ing to what has been re­ported, the An­i­mal Re­cov­ery Mis­sion had three weeks of un­der­cover in­ves­ti­gat­ing they con­ducted. Had this al­leged abuse been brought to our at­ten­tion, my deputies and de­tec­tives could have re­solved this is­sue then,” Stephen said.

Richard “Kudo” Couto, ARM’s founder and lead in­ves­ti­ga­tor, said Mon­day the sher­iff, an elected of­fi­cial, is try­ing to shift blame.

Couto said the un­der­cover in­ves­ti­ga­tor, who ob­tained em­ploy­ment at the dairy in Au­gust, con­tin­ued to record the ac­tiv­i­ties in the barn while try­ing un­suc­cess­fully to gain ac­cess to other ar­eas, such as the birthing and downer cow ar­eas. A downer cow is one who can no longer stand on its own and is usu­ally killed.

“We had a lot of leads com­ing in to us from em­ploy­ees at Lar­son and from con­trac­tors who do busi­ness with Lar­son who said there was com­pa­ra­ble cru­elty in other ar­eas of the prop­erty, other than the milk­ing barn,” Couto said Mon­day.

“This com­pany has about nine mon­ster lo­ca­tions,” Couto said. “As un­der­cover in­ves­ti­ga­tors we would not have been do­ing our job un­less we looked into other lo­ca­tions.”

On Mon­day, Stephen re­it­er­ated what he said last week — he has known the Lar­son fam­ily for years, and they would not con­done such be­hav­ior.

“I was in con­tact with two of the farm’s own­ers, Woody and Ja­cob Lar­son. The Lar­sons wel­comed the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Had they known about it (al­leged abuse), they would have fired them on the spot. One of the em­ploy­ees in the pic­tures was fired and two more were sus­pended pend­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the dairy farm. In my 30 years work­ing at the Sher­iff ’s Of­fice we have never re­ceived any in­nu­en­dos, com­plaints or al­le­ga­tions in re­gards to the Lar­sons them­selves. The dairy op­er­a­tions will con­tinue be­cause th­ese cat­tle have to be milked twice a day or they will get sick,” Stephen said.

Nigel Cook, a Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin-Madi­son pro­fes­sor in Food An­i­mal Pro­duc­tion Medicine and depart­ment chair in the School of Vet­eri­nary Medicine, was sent a link to the video by The Palm Beach Post.

“The be­hav­ior it shows is in­de­fen­si­ble and can­not be tol­er­ated on our farms,” Cook said. “Milk­ers bran­dish­ing re­bar, hit­ting pok­ing and stab­bing cows and punch­ing ud­ders is shock­ing and not typ­i­cal of the dairy in­dus­try as a whole — I wouldn’t work in such an in­dus­try.”

Cook said an an­i­mal stressed in this man­ner would not let her milk down in the par­lor and the farm would go out of busi­ness.

“The fact that the owner states that he did not know what is go­ing on is also un­ac­cept­able. Work­ers on Dairy Farm au­dited herds are re­quired to be trained in an­i­mal han­dling by man­age­ment and sign a form to guar­an­tee their gen­tle treat­ment of an­i­mals on the farm. Poor su­per­vi­sion and train­ing of work­ers is not ac­cept­able at any level and it is clear that th­ese milk­ers did not know what they were do­ing and their poor han­dling skills made things far worse,” Cook said.

Cook added, “I am con­cerned that with fewer and fewer milk­ers avail­able to milk the cows in the U.S. dairy in­dus­try be­cause of the cur­rent im­mi­gra­tion cli­mate we may see more poorly qual­i­fied in­di­vid­u­als work­ing on our farms and an in­crease in th­ese types of in­ci­dents.”

CON­TRIB­UTED

Video pro­vided by An­i­mal Re­cov­ery Mis­sion, an an­i­mal cru­elty in­ves­tiga­tive group, shows an em­ployee of Lar­son Dairy in Okeechobee County kick­ing a cow.

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