Tag Archives: Idaho

Idaho man pleads not guilty to hate crime in killing of gay man

An Idaho man charged with a federal hate crime in the beating death of a gay man pleaded not guilty in Boise’s U.S. District Court.

A March trial was set for 23-year-old Kelly Schneider, who pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in state court this week.

He was indicted earlier this month on the hate crime charge that accused him of attacking Steven Nelson last year because he was gay.

Few documents have been filed in the federal court case so far, but the details of the attack are outlined in the related state court case: Prosecutors say Schneider used an online personals ad on Backdoor.com to lure the 49-year-old Nelson to a remote recreation area near Lake Lowell in southwestern Idaho.

There Nelson was robbed, stripped, beaten and left.

Despite being critically injured, naked and barefoot, Nelson managed to walk to a home about a half-mile away for help. He was able to give police information before he died a few hours later.

Schneider pleaded guilty in state court to first-degree murder.

But Idaho’s state hate crime law doesn’t extend protections to people who are gay or lesbian, and so Schneider was transferred to federal custody to face the hate crime charge.

Schneider was one of four men charged in connection with the attack in Idaho’s state courts.

On Monday, Schneider pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, saying that he intended to rob Nelson but not kill him. He acknowledged that he kicked Nelson repeatedly and that his actions caused Nelson’s death.

In exchange for his guilty plea, state prosecutors agreed to drop robbery, theft and conspiracy charges. He now faces life in state prison, as well as a possible life sentence in federal prison if he is convicted on the federal hate crime charge.

The other three men in the state case — Jayson Woods, 28; Kevin R. Tracy, 21; and Daniel Henkel, 23 — are still awaiting trial on first-degree murder, robbery and conspiracy charges.

Schneider has a lengthy criminal history in Idaho. But the only other violent crime on his record is an injury to an officer conviction that appears to stem from his time spent in the Canyon County jail in 2012.

Still, Deputy Canyon County Prosecutor Chris Boyd said during Schneider’s state court arraignment last year that he believed Schneider had lured and beaten other victims many times before and the sheriff’s office said at the time they had received tips about others who may have been victimized in the same way.

However, no additional cases have been filed against Schneider in state court.

Confronting the ‘heroin tsunami’ in Kootenai County, Idaho

Crushing news came shortly after Cindy Schaffner heard sirens just a few blocks from her Post Falls home.

The sirens, Schaffner learned, were for her 19-year-old daughter, Cathryn Mason.

Cathryn, who loved the outdoors and was majoring in recreation management at North Idaho College, was in critical condition. She’d overdosed on heroin and alcohol.

Cathryn died two days later after she was taken off of life support. That was in May 2014.

“She was a very driven and focused person,” Schaffner said, fighting back tears. “She loved to go on hikes and was full of life. She was celebrating getting good grades for the semester.”

Schaffner said it was the first time she was aware of that her daughter had used drugs.

“She had a strong sense of morals and values and she had faith, but, for whatever reason, she decided to compromise those values,” Schaffner said. “It was a surprise to all of us because she wasn’t a user.”

Cathryn was caught on the edge of what officials refer to as the “heroin tsunami,” a nationwide opioid abuse epidemic that Kootenai County has not been immune to in recent years.

“We have seen a significant increase in the usage of heroin in our community,” Post Falls Police Chief Scot Haug said.

Haug said the rise of heroin usage is due to two reasons. It is not only used as a recreational drug for the intense euphoria it induces, but it is an opioid painkiller that people turn to when they are taken off prescription medications or those medications aren’t offering as much relief as desired.

Heroin is synthesized from morphine, a naturally occurring substance extracted from the seed pod of the Asian opium poppy plant. It appears as a “China white” or brown powder or as a sticky black substance as “black tar” heroin.

Heroin can be injected, inhaled by snorting or sniffing, or smoked. All three methods deliver the drug to the brain rapidly, contributing to its health risks and high risk for addiction.

“Some experts believe that heroin is more addictive than meth and more difficult to detox off of,” Haug said.

The street value of heroin is about $300 per gram, according to police. It is usually sold by the “point” — or tenth of a gram — for $30.

While Cathryn, who graduated from Post Falls High in 2012, was not on painkillers, her sudden and unexpected death shows how lethal heroin can be, Schaffner said.

“Some do it for years and years, while others may try it once and it kills them,” she said. “It’s like playing Russian roulette.”

Rising numbers

News earlier this month that multiple law enforcement agencies had busted an alleged heroin ring that included a Coeur d’Alene physician put a local point on the severity of the problem nationally.

At least 28,648 people in the U.S. died of causes linked to opioid drugs in 2014, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, almost as many as are killed annually in car crashes. The class of drugs includes heroin and prescription painkillers such as oxycodone.

A CDC report released last year revealed the number of U.S. heroin users has grown by nearly 300,000 over a decade.

Haug said heroin has surpassed methamphetamine as the most common drug behind marijuana in the community.

PFPD processed no heroin into its evidence storage in 2010, but it obtained 20 heroin items in 2013, 19 in 2014 and 21 in 2015 (the numbers do not reflect heroin-related medical calls).

Haug said he’s aware of several heroin-related deaths across Kootenai County around the time that Cathryn died. Investigations into some of those cases, including Cathryn’s death, continue.

Haug said his department receives heart-wrenching calls on almost a weekly basis from families of those using heroin who are desperate for help.

“But many times the users don’t want help,” he said. “The challenge for us is that we can’t knock down doors and force people to get help, but we point them and their families in the right direction when there’s opportunities.”

Kootenai County Sheriff Ben Wolfinger said the rise in heroin has a ripple effect in the community, from law enforcement to substance abuse councils to the mental health sector.

“It’s not just a law enforcement problem; it’s a community problem,” he said.

Dr. Joseph Abate, medical director at the nonprofit Heritage Health, said he believes one reason heroin has regained momentum is because it’s cheaper than some prescription painkillers.

“That’s an attraction to people who are using opioids without a doctor’s recommendation,” Abate said. “But people who have been on opioids with a doctor’s recommendation turn to heroin too because they have a problem with tolerance to pain, especially younger people. They may start on low doses of pain medication, then they take more and more to get the same amount of relief. It may not make sense to you or I, but to patients who are trying to get relief . 

“Part of the rise of heroin is that people start on painkillers for legitimate reasons and then it just gets out of control. In the past people received the message that pain could be controlled with the right dosage, but now we’ve learned the hard way that it does nothing more than make a person worse over the long term rather than better.”

Spirit Lake Police Chief Keith Hutcheson said as prescription drugs have become more regulated in response to the rise in addictions, people revert to illegal drugs such as heroin. It’s a vicious cycle, he said.

“Instead of buying pills on the street, they’re now buying heroin because it’s cheaper and they can get a higher high for a longer time,” Hutcheson said.

Combating the epidemic

One of the ways Heritage Health is trying to right the ship when no opioid is enough is to educate on “mindfulness-based solutions.”

“It’s thinking of pain differently, just something you learn to deal with,” Abate said. “It’s not us saying that pain is all in your head. What we’re saying is how you perceive your pain makes a difference in what you search for as the solution.”

Part of the program is sharing with others how pain affects your daily life and how you label it.

“A lot of people don’t have a chance to tell about how it affects your life,” Abate said.

Abate said if the only weapon in one’s toolbox to fight pain is opioids, it’s not likely you’ll find relief in a fashion that will allow you to live a reasonable life. Mindfulness solutions, exercise, physical therapy and acupuncture are other tools people can use to treat pain.

“There are better ways to treat pain rather than assuming the only thing that will make it go away is pain medicine,” he said. “If people are willing to look at why the pain is not very well-controlled, we can offer them other options so they are safely and reasonably treated without fear of an unintentional overdose.”

Abate said while there are good substance abuse treatment programs available, there aren’t a lot of affordable ones. He said providers also need to be educated on who the highest-risk populations are before prescribing medication.

Abate said there has been a push in recent years for providers to monitor patients more closely and lower the maximum doses of painkillers. He said emergency doctors will now often times refer frequent patients back to their primary care providers for pain medication.

At the national level, President Barack Obama will ask Congress for $1.1 billion in his next budget to combat the opioid abuse epidemic, which has emerged as a 2016 campaign issue. The amount Obama wants to spend over two years is slightly more than the $1 billion he’s requested to expedite cancer treatments.

“Prescription drug abuse and heroin use have taken a heartbreaking toll on too many Americans and their families while straining resources of law enforcement and treatment programs,” the White House said in a statement.

Abate said the number of people who seek urgent medical care after using heroin is limited.

“We usually don’t see them,” he said. “They don’t wander into the clinic looking for care. They’re more likely to be found by law enforcement.”

Lisa Aitken, Kootenai Health spokeswoman, said there also hasn’t been an increase in people coming to the hospital’s emergency room with heroin-related issues.

“That’s definitely not to say that the use of heroin is not on the rise; they are just not making it to the hospital at this point,” she said. “It’s sad to think that there are people not coming to the hospital if they are in need of medical care related to heroin use.”

Schaffner said that since her daughter died, young women who have struggled or have been tempted have gravitated toward her for support.

“You need to have open communication with your kids and you’ve got to know where they are at,” she said. “If they think you are overbearing, too bad. It’s for their own good.”

Schaffner said she still struggles with what caused Cathryn to make a “foolish choice.” She said her faith and two other daughters have helped her from “rolling into a ditch” after the tragedy.

“You’ve got to stay focused on the things you do have,” Schaffner said. “You can’t stop living when other people love you and need you. I have good memories of Cathryn, and I think about her every day. There’s a purpose and reason for things and some day I’ll understand.”

Published via the AP member exchange. 


Idaho appeals ruling against state’s ‘ag-gag’ law

The state of Idaho is appealing a federal court’s decision to overturn the state’s “ag-gag” law.

The law makes it a crime to videotape agriculture operations. Idaho lawmakers passed the law in 2014 after the state’s $2.5 billion dairy industry complained that videos of weak, dying cows being beaten and stomped on at a southern Idaho dairy unfairly hurt their business.

The vicious brutality caught on video sparked a consumer backlash, as did the images of sickly, terrified cows covered with ulcers and feces being prodded with electrical rods into slaughter tunnels.

The Los Angeles-based animal rights group Mercy For Animals released the videos, shot in 2012 at Bettencourt Dairy.

Similar conditions have been documented in other states, including Wisconsin. Republican “pro-business” legislators in Wisconsin, Kentucky, Tennessee and other states have either passed or tried to pass legislation similar to Utah’s in order to protect companies from public exposure of the squalid, brutal conditions under which animals are kept in factory farms/

A federal court invalidated Utah’s law in August, holding that it violates the First Amendment.

The state appealed that ruling to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The picture shown here is known as a “death pile.” After being crammed into spaces so small they can’t move and loaded with steroids, hormones and anibiotics to make them grow, factory farm animals end up in piles like this before their parts are butchered and sold in shiny cellophane-wrapped packages on supermarket shelves. Their short lives are lived amid conditions of unimaginable brutality and squalor.

Law banning secret filming of animal abuse ruled unconstitutional

A federal judge ruled that Idaho’s law banning secret filming of animal abuse at agricultural facilities is unconstitutional, giving animal rights activists across the country hope that the decision will pave the way to overturn similar laws — known as “ag gag” laws — in other states.

U.S. Judge Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill found that the law violates the First Amendment.

“Audio and visual evidence is a uniquely persuasive means of conveying a message, and it can vindicate an undercover investigator or whistleblower who is otherwise disbelieved or ignored,” Winmill wrote in his 29-page ruling. “Prohibiting undercover investigators or whistleblowers from recording an agricultural facility’s operations inevitably suppresses a key type of speech because it limits the information that might later be published or broadcast.”

A coalition of animal activists, civil rights groups and media organizations sued the state more than a year ago, opposing the ag gag’ law. The coalition said the law curtailed freedom of speech and made gathering proof of animal abuse a crime with a harsher punishment than the penalty for animal cruelty.

According to the law, people caught surreptitiously filming agricultural operations face up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine. By comparison, a first animal cruelty offense in Idaho is punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $5,000. A second offense within 10 years of the first conviction carries a penalty of up to nine months in jail and a fine up to $7,000.

The ruling is the first in the country to deem an anti-dairy spying law unconstitutional, said Mathew Liebman of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, one of the lead attorneys on the Idaho case.

The only other similar lawsuit is in Utah, but more are likely to come after Monday’s decision, he said. Currently, eight other states have passed some sort of law against such surreptitious filming, even though many more have been introduced in state legislatures.

Wisconsin Republicans have said they plan to introduce an ag gag law here, but have yet to do so. The proposal has met with heavy backlash from the public.

“This decision vindicates the public’s rights to know how animals are treated before they become meat,” Liebman said.

Idaho lawmakers approved the law in 2014 after the state’s $2.5 billion dairy industry complained that videos of cows being abused at a southern Idaho dairy filmed in 2012 unfairly hurt their business.

The Los Angeles-based animal rights group Mercy For Animals released the videos, which showed workers at Bettencourt Dairy beating, stomping and otherwise abusing cows in 2012.

“Idaho’s lawmakers should be ashamed of wasting precious time and valuable resources enacting unconstitutional laws that threaten animal welfare, food safety, workers’ rights, and the environment,” Nathan Runkle, president of Mercy For Animals, the animal rights group that released the 2012 footage, said in a statement.

Many lawmakers argued the law was needed to protect private property owners’ rights. However, Winmill countered that there are already state and federal laws on the books that protect private property against theft, fraud and trespass.

State Sen. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls, who first introduced the legislation, argued back in 2014 that “This is the way you combat your enemies.” During a legislative hearing, he compared undercover investigators to terrorists and called them “marauding” invaders who use ruthless tactics to submit their foes into submission.

Patrick told The Associated Press on Monday that he was disappointed in the ruling and was still considering options on how to best move forward.

Attorney General Lawrence Wasden’s office declined comment. Spokesman Todd Dvorak said the office was reviewing the ruling.

Opponents of ‘ag-gag’ law plead case to judge

Animal rights lawyers are asking a federal judge to strike down an Idaho law aiming to stop people from secretly filming animal abuse in the state’s agricultural facilities.

The law’s opponents asked U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill this week for a summary judgment — a fast-tracked way for a judge to rule on a lopsided case without having a full trial.

Justin Marceau from the Animal Legal Defense Fund said the statute — dubbed the “ag gag” law — stifles free speech. 

But Carl Withroe from the Idaho Attorney General’s office said that the law doesn’t hinder whistleblowers. “The statute was designed to protect private property and to protect agricultural operations, not to target journalists or would-be whistleblowers,” Withroe said.

But Marceau argued that the law was actually inspired by animus toward journalists and whistleblowers, citing comments from lawmakers during the debate.

“The state can’t just wave the wand of private property and protect any law it wants,” said Marceau, who is also backed by a coalition of food safety groups and individual rights advocates.

Winmill said he hopes to issue his ruling next week. If he rejects the arguments, the case will likely head to a full trial.

Idaho is one of seven states with ag gag legislation, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Similar litigation — also prompted by the Animal Legal Defense Fund — is currently underway in Utah.

Lawmakers passed the statute last February after a Los Angeles-based vegetarian and animal-rights group called Mercy for Animals released a video showing animal abuse at one of Idaho’s largest dairies. The video of workers at Bettencourt Dairies shows workers stomping, beating, dragging and sexual abusing the cows.

But Idaho’s dairy industry says that the group used its videos to unfairly hurt Bettencourt’s business — not try to stop abuse.

Winmill already denied Idaho’s request to dismiss the lawsuit last September.

“This is really the cutting edge of the interstitial boundaries of First Amendment law,” he said. “The decision here has no politics and has no economic interests. It’s just a question of what the First Amendment means and how it should be applied.”

People convicted under the law face up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.

Appeals court won’t reconsider Idaho gay marriage case

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has denied Gov. C. L. “Butch” Otter’s request for a review of the court’s ruling last year that overturned Idaho’s ban on gay marriage.

Otter had requested that an 11-judge panel review the October decision by three judges that Idaho’s same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional.

The 9th Circuit rejected Otter’s request. Three judges dissented from the majority, noting that a 6th Circuit decision upheld similar laws in four states.

“Clearly, the same-sex marriage debate is not over,” the three said in a 25-page dissent, adding that “thoughtful, dedicated jurists” have considered the issue and come up with differing results. The dissenting judges called the issue a “question of exceptional importance” that should have been reviewed.

Gay couples have been able to marry since shortly after the original appellate court ruling. Four lesbian couples filed the lawsuit challenging the state’s marriage ban.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights praised the appeals court’s decision, saying the original three-judge ruling was consistent with other federal judicial decisions, “which have rightly concluded that our Constitution cannot tolerate the profound harm that denying same-sex couples the freedom to marry inflicts (on) those couples and their children.”

Earlier this month Otter and Idaho’s attorney general filed separate petitions to the U.S. Supreme Court, fighting against gay marriage and arguing that the state’s case has national consequences.

Attorney General Lawrence Wasden’s filing stated that the issue is a matter of a state’s right to define marriage without the federal government’s involvement.

Otter asked the Supreme Court to review Idaho’s case alone or in addition to a pending case involving the 6th Circuit, which upheld the right of Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee to decide whether to allow gay marriage.

Otter’s petition maintains that unlike in other states, Idaho’s public officials have not shied away from defending a broad definition of heterosexual marriage.

2-year-old kills mom in conceal-and-carry accident at Idaho Walmart

A 29-year-old woman described as a “beautiful, young, loving mother” was fatally shot by her 2-year-old son at a northern Idaho Walmart in what authorities called a tragic accident.

The boy reached into Veronica J. Rutledge’s purse and her concealed gun fired, Kootenai County sheriff’s spokesman Stu Miller said. The woman was shopping on Dec. 30 with her son and three other children, Miller said.

Rutledge was from Blackfoot in southeastern Idaho, and her family had come to the area to visit relatives.

She was an employee of the Idaho National Laboratory, The Spokesman-Review of Spokane, Washington, reported. The Idaho Falls laboratory supports the U.S. Department of Energy in nuclear and energy research and national defense.

The woman had a concealed weapons permit. Miller said the young boy was left in a shopping cart, reached into his mother’s purse and grabbed a small-caliber handgun, which discharged one time.

Deputies who responded to the Walmart found Rutledge dead, the sheriff’s office said.

“It appears to be a pretty tragic accident,” Miller said.

The victim’s father-in-law, Terry Rutledge, told The Associated Press that Veronica Rutledge “was a beautiful, young, loving mother.”

“She was not the least bit irresponsible,” Terry Rutledge said. “She was taken much too soon.”

The woman’s husband was not in the store when the shooting happened at about 10:20 a.m. Dec. 30. Miller said the man arrived shortly after the shooting. All the children were taken to a relative’s house.

The shooting occurred in the Wal-Mart in Hayden, Idaho, a town about 40 miles northeast of Spokane. The store closed for the rest of the day.

Brooke Buchanan, a spokeswoman for Walmart, said in a statement the shooting was a “very sad and tragic accident.”

“We are working closely with the local sheriff’s department while they investigate what happened,” Buchanan said.

Idaho National Laboratory senior chemical engineer Vince Maio worked with Rutledge on a research paper about using glass ceramic to store nuclear waste, The Spokesman-Review said.

Maio said he was immediately impressed with her.

“She had a lot of maturity for her age,” he told the newspaper. “Her work was impeccable. She found new ways to do things that we did before and she found ways to do them better.”

“She was a beautiful person,” he added.

There do not appear to be reliable national statistics about the number of accidental fatalities involving children handling guns.

In neighboring Washington state, a 3-year-old boy was seriously injured in November when he accidentally shot himself in the face in a home in Lake Stevens, about 30 miles north of Seattle.

In April, a 2-year-old boy apparently shot and killed his 11-year-old sister while they and their siblings played with a gun inside a Philadelphia home. Authorities said the gun was believed to have been brought into the home by the mother’s boyfriend.

Hayden is a politically conservative town of about 9,000 people just north of Coeur d’Alene, in Idaho’s northern panhandle.

Idaho lawmakers passed legislation earlier this year allowing concealed weapons on the state’s public college and university campuses.

Despite facing opposition from all eight of the state’s university college presidents, lawmakers sided with gun rights advocates who said the law would better uphold the Second Amendment.

Under the law, gun holders are barred from bringing their weapons into dormitories or buildings that hold more than 1,000 people, such as stadiums or concert halls.

How does this little piggy get to market? | What producers don’t want you to know

At any given moment at Reichardt Duck Farm in Petaluma, California, about 200,000 ducks are living in tightly cramped pens, suffering disease, injury and starvation until they join the ranks of the million ducks the farm slaughters in a year for the food industry.

That’s a fact only known to the world at large thanks to the activist group Mercy for Animals, which in late October released “Ducks in Despair,” a secretly-filmed video that quickly went viral as viewers saw workers burning ducklings’ beaks and brutally breaking injured ducks’ necks. The images were captured by an undercover Mercy investigator working as a barn-cleaner on the farm, and also show birds being denied access to food, water and veterinary care.

Reichardt is no isolated incident. Other viral videos, filmed by Mercy and other undercover investigators, show animal abuses on farms providing dairy, eggs, beef, pork and poultry to consumers nationwide.

Videos show calves, being raised for veal, crammed into feces-covered boxes so small they cannot lie down. 

Videos show pigs being stowed in crates so small they can’t turn around, and being beaten with metal rods.

Videos show live chicks getting tossed into machines to be mashed into feed.

And here at home, a Mercy investigator released hidden-camera footage in early 2014 from Wiese Brothers Farms, a dairy farm in Greenleaf, Wisconsin, where workers were shown kicking, stabbing and whipping cows, even dragging downed animals around by chains attached to their legs and necks.

More recently, on Nov. 12, Mercy released an undercover video from Andrus Dairy in Birnamwood, Wisconsin, showing workers kicking and punching cows, hacking at their tails with pruning shears and dragging animals by their necks with ropes attached to tractors. The dairy was identified as a supplier to Ohio-based Great Lakes Cheese, one of the largest cheese companies in the country and a supplier to major grocery chains. 

“The handling of the dairy cows in this video is not acceptable,” Dr. Temple Grandin, animal welfare expert, said after reviewing the footage.

More than 80 undercover investigations have been conducted at U.S. factory farms in the past decade, resulting in dozens of videos that reveal animal abuse and real threats to food safety. And even as campaigns are launched to implement policies that can prevent such cruelty, counter-campaigns are trying to prevent undercover investigations in the first place. 

Earlier this year, the state of Idaho enacted an “ag-gag” law that criminalizes undercover investigations, making unauthorized recordings punishable by up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine. 

The measure is not the first of its kind, and it likely will not be the last.

Model ag-gag bills have been circulated by the right-wing, corporate-backed American Legislative Exchange Council as early as 2002. ALEC, the organization behind so-called “Stand Your Ground” legislation and anti-immigrant bills, published a draft that year misleadingly titled the Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act that would prohibit “entering an animal or research facility to take pictures by photograph, video camera or other means with the intent to commit criminal activities or defame the facility or its owner.”

Seven states have thus far passed ag-gag measures aimed at blocking whistleblowers from revealing abuse or unsafe conditions at livestock facilities. Advocates say farmers and livestock producers need the laws to guard against intrusions into their homes and businesses.

progressive pushback

But a broad progressive coalition has come out against the bills, with constitutional challenges pending against ag-gag laws in Utah and Idaho. It is a cause that intertwines animal welfare, the environment, labor rights, free speech, freedom of the press, food safety and consumer protection.

Some 70 groups have publicly stated opposition to ag-gag laws. Plaintiffs in the federal challenge to the Idaho law include the Animal Legal Defense Fund, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, American Civil Liberties Union, Center for Food Safety and Farm Sanctuary.

The law is “deeply distressing because it is aimed entirely at protecting an industry, especially in its worst practices that endanger people, at the expense of freedom of speech,” says professor Erwin Chemerinsky, a constitutional law expert and dean at the University of California, Irvine School of Law. “It would even criminalize a whistleblower who took a picture or video of wrongdoing in the workplace.”

In fact, an undercover investigator punished in Idaho faces far more severe penalties than a farmworker who abuses animals. Animal cruelty in the state can result in a mere six months in jail; people caught filming abuse face up to a year and a $5,000 fine.

Those who shoot, circulate and defend the hidden-camera videos say the films do much more than shock viewers. The videos obviously can have an immediate impact on how people shop, and what they put on the dinner table. But the videos also impact how workers, farms, factories, corporations and government regulators operate.

Seven years ago, a Humane Society of the United States investigation at a slaughterhouse in Chino, California, revealed workers using forklifts and chains to push and drag cows too sick to stand to the killing floor. Much of the meat from the slaughterhouse was for the National School Lunch Program. The undercover video pushed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to order the nation’s largest meat recall.

More recently, a Mercy for Animals investigation of an egg farm where dead chickens were rotting in cages with egg-laying hens prompted major retailers and restaurant chains to drop the supplier.

The full impact of the video from the Andrus Dairy in Wisconsin isn’t known. But quickly Great Lakes Cheese issued a statement of outrage and said it would no longer accept milk from the farm.

And Mercy’s investigation at the Wiese farm resulted in arrests and convictions of the animal abusers, as well as a corporate pledge of change. The Brown County Sheriff’s Department arrested four men for animal cruelty in connection with the Wiese video, and all four were convicted on multiple counts of animal cruelty and ordered to pay fines.

Mercy, in statements, praised the sheriff’s department and the district attorney’s office for “taking swift and decisive action in pursuing justice for these abused and exploited animals.”

The organization’s efforts in that case extended far beyond Wisconsin. At the time the footage was taken, Wiese Brothers supplied cheese to DiGiorno Pizza, owned by Nestlé. And Mercy called out the company for its association, with Mercy’s executive director Nathan Runkle saying in a news release, “No socially responsible corporation should support dairy operations that beat, kick, mutilate and neglect animals. Due to its complete lack of meaningful animal welfare standards, DiGiorno has allowed a culture of cruelty to flourish in its cheese supply chain.”

Nestlé publicly deplored the abuse and, last January, announced changes in how it scrutinizes suppliers. “We will not do business with companies that do not adhere to our strict standards, and we are always looking for ways to do better,” a company statement read.

By August, Nestlé, the world’s largest food company, had announced what Mercy called “the most comprehensive and far-reaching animal welfare policy of its kind.”

Nestlé vowed to eliminate many of the cruelest forms of institutionalized animal abuse from its supply chain, including an end to:

• Tail docking and dehorning of dairy cattle.

• Castrating piglets without painkillers.

• Confining calves in veal crates, pregnant pigs in gestation crates and egg-laying hens in battery cages.

Nestlé also vowed to phase out pharmaceutical growth promoters for poultry.

Runkle, in a statement, said, “We are heartened that Nestlé not only took notice, but also took action after egregious cruelty was exposed at one of its dairy suppliers. Nestlé’s new industry-leading policy will reduce the suffering of millions of animals each year and hopefully inspire other food providers to implement and enforce similar animal welfare requirements.”

Opponents of the ag-gag laws say Nestlé’s response to the documented abuse at a dairy farm and to the U.S. government’s response to abuse and health and safety issues at the California slaughterhouse prove the value of whistleblowers and undercover investigations.

Still, animal welfare activists expect a dozen ag-gag bills to be introduced in state legislatures in the next two years.

On the web…

http://www.gotmisery.com

Navy veteran gets OK to be buried with her wife in Idaho military cemetery

A U.S. Navy veteran can be buried with the ashes of her late spouse in a southwest Idaho military cemetery after the state legalized same-sex marriage.

“It’s done,” 74-year-old Madelynn Lee Taylor said on Oct. 22 after successfully completing paperwork to be buried at Idaho State Veterans Cemetery in Boise.

Taylor was previously denied permission to have her ashes interred with Jean Mixner because of Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage. The cemetery is owned and operated by the state.

Same-sex marriage became legal in the state on Oct. 15, when the ban was lifted by courts that determined it was unconstitutional.

Taylor had filed a lawsuit in federal court in July seeking to be buried with Mixner, who died in 2012. The case is now expected to be dismissed.

“Lee deserves credit for shining a powerful light on the injustice and indignity caused by Idaho’s former exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage,” her attorney Deborah Ferguson told the Spokesman-Review ( http://bit.ly/1wtNRE2 ). “Her persistence, visibility and refusal to accept inequality are a model for us all.”

Cemetery Director James Earp on Oct. 22 welcomed Taylor, who has serious heart and lung problems and uses a cane, walker or scooter to get around. Earp helped Taylor through the paperwork and congratulated her with a handshake when it was done.

Taylor and Mixner met on a blind date in 1995 and married in California in 2008 when gay marriage was briefly legal there.

When Mixner got emphysema, she and Taylor made a promise: Whoever died first would be cremated and later buried with the other.

They chose the veterans cemetery because they knew it would be well maintained and decided on cremation and interment in a wall so their names and spot wouldn’t get covered over with weeds or grass. They wanted to be in Idaho, where their family could come to pay respects.

“It’s a good day – we get to get Jean out of the closet!” Taylor joked  after finishing the paperwork. “She’s dancing.”

Information from: The Spokesman-Review, http://www.spokesman.com

Supreme Court denies stay, same-sex couples to marry in Idaho

The U.S. Supreme Court on Oct. 10 denied a stay of the Ninth Circuit decision striking down Idaho’s marriage equality ban, allowing marriage equality to take effect in that state.

Idaho still has the option to petition the U.S. Supreme Court for certiorari. However, the state cannot refuse to grant same-sex couples marriage licenses pending a decision by the Supreme Court.

“Today’s Supreme Court order is yet another critical step in the path towards full nationwide marriage equality,” said Human Rights Campaign legal director Sarah Warbelow. “Same-sex couples cannot wait while the judicial process plays out, and the Supreme Court clearly agrees.”

Earlier this week, a three-judge panel for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that state bans on marriage rights for same-sex couples are unconstitutional. The court found that Idaho and Nevada’s marriage bans violate the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution on the basis of equal protection.

Nevada declined to appeal the Ninth Circuit decision while Idaho requested an emergency stay and signaled their intent to challenge the decision. Justice Anthony Kennedy issued a temporary stay on Oct. 8.

Also this week, the nine justices of the Supreme Court announced they had declined to hear any of the cases pending before them challenging state bans on marriage for same-sex couples. This allowed the circuit court decisions striking down the bans to stand in five states, including Wisconsin.

Gallup puts support for marriage equality at 55 percent, with other polls showing support at even higher margins.

And support for same-sex marriage rights continues to grow in virtually every demographic group.