Tag Archives: undercover

Judge weighing Utah law banning undercover farm filming

A federal judge is considering whether a Utah ban on hidden cameras at slaughterhouses that was passed amid a wave of similar measures around the country violates the right to freedom of speech.

U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby said he’s spent hours considering the issues raised by the case, including the balance between private property rights and the First Amendment.

Animal activists argue the law is an unconstitutional attempt to keep them from exposing inhumane or unsafe practices at factory farms. The state of Utah contends the First Amendment doesn’t allow people to enter private property under false pretenses and record however they want.

“I don’t think there’s a constitutional right to spy,” said Kyle Kaiser with the Utah Attorney General’s Office. The law makes farm facilities safer by barring unskilled undercover operatives, he said.

Shelby questioned both sides closely. He asked whether there’s any evidence of activities asking activists seriously disturbing safety at farm facilities, and Kaiser conceded there was none.

On the other side, the judge asked activists whether business competitors, for example, should be able to plant recording devices to steal trade secrets. Lawyer Matthew Liebman with the Animal Legal Defense Fund said corporate espionage wouldn’t pass legal muster and property owners do have the right to remove someone caught with a camera. But it’s different when the state gets involved, he said.

“What we’re trying to protect against is a government motive to silence speech,” Liebman said. The Utah law was part of national push to stop embarrassing videos from animal-rights groups, not agricultural safety, he said.

The hearing came after a judge in Idaho found a similar law violates the First Amendment _ a win for activists that they’re aiming to repeat in eight states with similar rules.

Idaho is appealing that ruling.

At least five people have been charged under the Utah law since it was passed in 2012, though those cases have since been dropped.

Four were animal activists from California who were cited outside a large Iron County hog farm in 2015. The charges were later dropped because the farm didn’t want to pursue them.

A woman who once faced a misdemeanor count after being accused of filming a front-end loader dumping a sick cow outside a slaughterhouse in 2013 is a plaintiff in the case challenging the law, along with Animal Legal Defense Fund and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Media groups have also joined the lawsuit, saying the law violates the First Amendment.

The Animal Agriculture Alliance, U.S. Poultry and Egg Association and other groups have lined up to support the state.

Egg-producing factory farm focus of undercover investigation

The Humane Society of the United States on June 7 released findings from an undercover investigation at New England’s largest egg-producing factory farm that supplies eggs to several states.

The facility in Turner, Maine, is operated by Pennsylvania-based Hillandale Farms and owned by Jack DeCoster, described by the Humane Society as a notorious egg magnate whose “filthy facilities in Iowa led to a 2010 Salmonella outbreak that was the largest in the industry’s history and that sickened tens of thousands of people.”

The investigation was conducted in the spring at the complex — about 70 warehouses confine about 4 million laying hens, according to the investigators.

In the 10-unit factory farm where the HSUS investigator worked, about 450,000 hens produce 420,000 eggs each day.

The investigator found hens sharing cages with dead animals. Some of the birds were mummified and stuck to the wire cage floor, meaning they’d been lying dead in the cages for months.

• Hens confined in cages packed so tightly, the animals couldn’t spread their wings.

Hens were found trapped by their necks, wings and feet in rusty cages.

Hens were found with bloody prolapses.

Hens were found with facial abnormalities.

Hens were found standing in waste.

Equipment was found coated in cobwebs, chicken feathers and feces.

Poisoned rodents were found and cages and combined with chicken manure to sell for fertilizer.

Chicken manure build-up in barns oozed on floors.

Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS, wrote in a statement, “The last year has seen a torrent of announcements from major companies like McDonald’s and Walmart touting that they’re starting to switch to 100 percent cage-free eggs.

“As important and exciting as these corporate policies are, as of today, nine out of 10 egg-laying chickens in the United States are still locked inside cages where they can’t even spread their wings. We must accelerate the transition away from these inherently inhumane production systems and embrace a cage-free future.”

Hillandale Farms issued this statement in response to the investigative report:

“At Hillandale Farms, we take great pride in the quality of eggs we produce and have high standards for hen care and egg safety.

“When we took over management of the Maine farms last July, we were aware the barns were aging. Since then, we have invested in equipment and process upgrades to enhance our production operations, as well as expanded training for our team members.

“We reviewed the video and we are investigating the practices in the barns where this footage may have been captured to ensure this is addressed immediately. The worker who shot the video did not meet Hillandale’s standard of care and is no longer employed by us. For example, it is our practice that any mortality be removed from cages within a day.

“We have engaged our farm veterinarian, food safety and quality assurance teams to act swiftly to assure that we meet or exceed all animal health and food safety guidelines. In addition, we have reached out proactively to ask the Maine Department of Agriculture to conduct an immediate inspection.”

On the Web…

The egg industry in the United States.

Undercover investigation of a Hillandale egg farm in Maine. — The Humane Society of the United States
Undercover investigation of a Hillandale egg farm in Maine. — The Humane Society of the United States

PETA exposes abuse at monkey breeding facility in Florida

An undercover investigation by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals at a monkey breeding facility has led to a federal review at the southwest Florida business.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is investigating a Primate Products Inc. in Hendry County, where an undercover worker found sick and injured monkeys living in inhumane and unsanitary conditions.

PETA released a video on June 1 showing conditions at the facility. PETA spokesman Dan Paden said the video was taken by a PETA employee who was hired to work undercover at the facility. PETA first gave the video exclusively to The Associated Press.

After meeting with PETA, inspectors from the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service went to Primate Products Inc.

Tanya Espinosa, a spokeswoman for the USDA, said in an email to the AP that Primate Products Inc. has three weeks to appeal the USDA inspectors’ report, which won’t be made public until that process is complete.

Espinosa said that the USDA does “currently have an open investigation into this facility.”

The seven-minute video showed workers holding rhesus macaque monkeys with protruding rectal tissue by the tails. The video also purports to show monkeys in feces-covered cages, monkeys without working water dispensers, and primates with broken bones and exposed wounds. A monkey also allegedly died from hypothermia because of cold temperatures and another was injured by a bear. The monkeys are kept in outdoor cages.

“Primate Products has been awarded federal contracts worth more than $13 million of taxpayers’ money and ships monkeys to massive testing laboratories and universities,” said Dan Paden, a PETA spokesman. “Its customers, like our own National Institutes of Health, need to watch this footage and decide whether they want to continue to bankroll this cruelty and these animals’ violent capturing, pain, terror and deaths.”

Hendry County, in the southwestern part of the state near Naples and Fort Myers, is something of a mecca for primate breeding facilities. Three monkey breeding farms containing thousands of primates operate in the small, rural county and a fourth is in the works.

The companies say they’re doing nothing wrong, they’re properly permitted agricultural facilities and they’re in the area with the blessing of authorities.

In November, the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit against Hendry County officials who approved that Primate Products Inc. could hold as many as 3,200 long-tailed macaques, a species linked to outbreaks of infectious disease. The lawsuit said Hendry County approved the controversial project behind closed doors with only the facility’s supporters present and failed to hold the public hearing required by the state’s Sunshine Law. Last week, the lawsuit was expanded to include a second farm that rents space on the property.

Thomas J. Rowell, a veterinarian and president of Primate Products Inc., told The Associated Press that “the inspection was thorough.”

“This is part of the process in which we fully cooperated,” Rowell wrote in an email. “I’m not aware of who provided the video. We welcomed the USDA’s visit. It’s good when you get the opportunity to review your operation through the eyes of others. We are always looking for opportunities to improve upon our program and appreciate the corrective actions and timelines provided by the USDA. Staff looks forward to working together with the aim of improving upon our animal welfare program.”

Primate Products uses two species of macaques from China, Cambodia, Mauritius or Vietnam. The animals are quarantined upon arriving in the United States.

Primate Products then breeds the monkeys for resale and distribution to research institutions, pharmaceutical companies and the federal government, according to a company spokesman. The monkeys sell for about $3,200 each.

Activists and residents say that the facilities shouldn’t be covered under the county’s agricultural zoning regulations. Monkeys, they say, are very different from cows or horses.

“As seen in the video, the company takes spinal fluid and blood from these wild animals, which can in no way be considered the ‘agriculture’ use that the company’s land is zoned for,” Paden said. “Hendry County can and should put an end to this cruelty and shut Primate Products down immediately.”

PETA filed a formal complaint with the USDA, asking the agency to look into alleged violations of animal welfare and protection laws.

Humane Society: Hens scalded alive at Minnesota slaughter plant

An undercover investigation at a “spent” egg-laying hen slaughter plant in Butterfield, Minnesota, revealed inhumane treatment of animals and potentially illegal cruelty, according to The Humane Society of the United States.

The animal welfare group conducted the investigation at Butterfield Foods and then released video and other results of the investigation and reported possible illegal activity to authorities, followed by release to the news media on Jan. 5.

A news release said the investigation was the first undercover operation at a “spent-hen” slaughter plant in the country.

Spent hens are egg-laying birds no longer considered commercially profitable. The hens are used for cheap meat after a lifelong confinement producing eggs in “battery cages.” The meat is often so low-grade and unsafe that many battery cage facilities cannot even sell it for human consumption. Hens and other poultry are not covered by the federal Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, even though chickens and turkeys represent nine out of 10 animals slaughtered for food in the United States.   

The HSUS, in its investigation, documented:

• Many birds each day were scalded alive, forced upside down into tanks of scorching hot water in which they drown. In just one 30-minute period, the HSUS investigator witnessed approximately 45 such animals. This possible violation of Minnesota’s anti-cruelty code has been reported to local authorities.

• Hens arrived in trucks packed so tightly they could barely move. Birds had broken bones, others were dead on arrival, and some were so covered in feces they looked black. If a truck could not be emptied by the end of a processing day, the remaining hens continued to suffer on the trucks until the next day.

• Hens were removed from crates and shackled upside down while alive and fully conscious. Removal began with workers jabbing metal hooks into the densely packed transport cages to rip hens out of the cages by their legs.

• Birds were ineffectively stunned and inhumanely killed. After being shackled, the line of upside-down birds moved through an electrified trough of water designed to stun them—though that outcome was not necessarily reached. Many hens tried to right themselves, while others were hung too high; these birds missed the water entirely and arrived to the next station—the neck cutter—fully aware.

• Sick and injured birds thrown against the wall or tossed in the trash.

“Egg-laying hens suffer tremendously, locked in cramped cages their whole lives only to then be inhumanely slaughtered when their productivity wanes,” said Paul Shapiro, HSUS vice president of farm animal protection, in a news release. “Consumers can help reduce the suffering of animals in factory farms by eating less chicken, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture can help poultry by requiring slaughter plants to switch to higher-welfare systems such as controlled atmosphere killing.”

The HSUS has information to support the claim that some major egg producers in Minnesota do not even meet the voluntary space allotment standard established by the United Egg Producers, the national trade association of the egg industry. That voluntary standard, widely considered to be inhumane because it immobilizes birds, may cover about 75 percent of laying hens in cage confinement. Some major producers in Minnesota keep hens in 48- or 54-inch space allotments, which amounts to extraordinary deprivation and suffering for the birds. 

“Laying hens in Minnesota are suffering from birth to death, and every step of the process is filled with misery for so many millions of these birds,” added Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS.

On the Web…

A video from The Humane Society of the United States: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eM-JsyyfSmE 

Stings target gay men in South Carolina

Undercover stings to crack down on prostitution and public sex are snaring individuals engaged in consensual, legal activities and should be stopped. That’s the argument of the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of South Carolina in a complaint letter on Aug. 16 to the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office and the state solicitor’s office.

The ACLU refers to several incidents in which undercover officers approached people parked in their cars, sitting on their own porches or walking down the street and asked suspects to engage in illegal sexual activity, including prostitution and having sex in a public place. The individuals either declined or offered to engage in lawful private sexual contact and were arrested.

“Consenting adults should not be arrested for acts that don’t break any laws,” said Victoria Middleton, executive director of the ACLU of South Carolina. “These sting operations enable officers to make as many arrests as possible, while they do nothing to stop actual criminal activity from occurring.”

Officers, the ACLU says, have repeatedly arrested individuals for being in places known to be frequented by prostitutes, for being “known prostitutes” or merely saying they’d “think about it” when officers approached them to solicit illegal activity. Officers have also arrested men who have sex with men even when the suspects clearly sought to engage in private, consensual, non-commercial sex instead of sex in a public location.

In one case, an undercover officer offered a woman a ride and tried to persuade her to accept money in exchange for sex. While she said she wouldn’t do “the prostitution thing,” they continued discussing a place where they could have sex, and the woman rubbed the inside of the officer’s thigh. She was arrested for sexual assault and battery and loitering to engage in prostitution. A similar incident occurred when a man was arrested for assault for touching a male officer who asked to engage in oral sex.

Undercover sting operations have been criticized by the Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services as an ineffective way to deter street prostitution or public sex. Instead, the Department of Justice recommends other tools, such as the use of prominent warning signs or visible patrol units as more effective strategies that are less prone to abuse.

Ex-Sen. Craig sued for misuse of campaign funds

Former Republican U.S. Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho was sued this week by federal election regulators who contend he misused some $217,000 in campaign funds for his legal defense after his arrest in a 2007 airport bathroom sex sting.

Federal Election Commission officials said in their complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., that Craig should repay the money and pay a fine.

The FEC contends the three-term U.S. senator’s campaign account, Craig for U.S. Senate, paid at least $139,952 to the law firm Sutherland, Asbill and Brennan in Washington, D.C., and $77,032 to Kelly & Jacobson in Minnesota for legal services related to his guilty plea to disorderly conduct.

Craig had been accused of soliciting sex in a bathroom at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. A male undercover officer said Craig tapped his feet and signaled under a stall divider that he wanted sex.

Regulators said the campaign money was converted to personal use because Craig’s defense in Minnesota had no connection to his campaign for federal office.

“Mr. Craig used these funds converted from his campaign committee to pay legal expenses he incurred in connection with his arrest, guilty plea, and subsequent efforts to withdraw his guilty plea in Minnesota,” according to the complaint. “These legal costs were not made in connection with his campaign for federal office or for ordinary and necessary expenses incurred in connection with his duties as a senator.”

Regulators added “the expenses … would have existed irrespective of his duties as senator.”

The FEC said it was unable to resolve the matter through “informal methods of conference, conciliation and persuasion” with Craig earlier this year.

The commission, which voted 5-0 last month to pursue the lawsuit, is also seeking penalties of up to $6,500 from the former senator and his treasurer, Kaye O’Riordan.

A call to Craig’s lobbying firm, New West Strategies in Washington, D.C., wasn’t returned.

O’Riordan also didn’t return a phone call to her Boise home.

After Craig’s guilty plea, he received a sentence of 10 days of jail time and a $1,000 fine; the jail time and half of the fine were suspended.

After the arrest became public, Craig publicly maintained his innocence and his heterosexuality, insisting he only pleaded guilty to keep the embarrassing situation quiet. He initially told a crowd in Boise that he intended to resign, then opted to serve out his term until January 2009.

In 2008, the Minnesota Court of Appeals rejected Craig’s attempt to withdraw his guilty plea.

In January 2009, the three-term senator from Payette, Idaho, decided against asking the Minnesota Supreme Court to void the conviction, marking an end to that phase of his legal wrangling.

According to the FEC complaint, lawyers for Craig wrote in a September 2007 letter to the Senate Ethics Committee that his arrest and conviction were “purely personal conduct unrelated to the performance of official Senate duties.”

On Feb. 13, 2008, the Senate Ethics Committee issued a “Public Letter of Admonition” unanimously concluding that, among other matters, Craig hadn’t complied with Senate rules requiring members to seek approval of any payments for “legal expenses” paid with funds of a principal campaign committee.

In its 11-page filing, the FEC also asked a judge to order Craig to pay the agency’s expenses in the latest case.

In addition to the money targeted by the FEC complaint, Craig spent thousands more from his campaign fund related to the arrest.

However, the FEC concluded that using the money to pay for representation during a Senate Ethics Committee inquiry and to pay for a public-relations firm to respond to media inquiries regarding his arrest and misdemeanor conviction were permissible uses of campaign funds.

Undercover NYPD officers infiltrated liberal groups

Undercover New York Police Department officers attended meetings of liberal political organizations and kept intelligence files on activists who planned protests around the U.S., according to interviews and documents that show how police have used counterterrorism tactics to monitor even lawful activities.

The infiltration echoes the tactics the NYPD used in the run-up to New York’s 2004 Republican National Convention, when police monitored church groups, anti-war organizations and environmental advocates nationwide. That effort was revealed by The New York Times in 2007 and in an ongoing federal civil rights lawsuit over how the NYPD treated convention protesters.

Police said the pre-convention spying was necessary to prepare for the huge, raucous crowds that were headed to the city. But documents obtained by The Associated Press show that the police department’s intelligence unit continued to keep close watch on political groups in 2008, long after the convention had passed.

In April 2008, an undercover NYPD officer traveled to New Orleans to attend the People’s Summit, a gathering of liberal groups organized around their shared opposition to U.S. economic policy and the effect of trade agreements between the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

When the undercover effort was summarized for supervisors, it identified groups opposed to U.S. immigration policy, labor laws and racial profiling. Two activists – Jordan Flaherty, a journalist, and Marisa Franco, a labor organizer for housekeepers and nannies – were mentioned by name in one of the police intelligence reports obtained by the AP.

“One workshop was led by Jordan Flaherty, former member of the International Solidarity Movement Chapter in New York City,” officers wrote in an April 25, 2008, memo to David Cohen, the NYPD’s top intelligence officer. “Mr. Flaherty is an editor and journalist of the Left Turn Magazine and was one of the main organizers of the conference. Mr. Flaherty held a discussion calling for the increase of the divestment campaign of Israel and mentioned two events related to Palestine.”

The document provides the latest example of how, in the name of fighting terrorism, law enforcement agencies around the country have scrutinized groups that legally oppose government policies. The FBI, for instance, has collected information on anti-war demonstrators. The Maryland state police infiltrated meetings of anti-death penalty groups. Missouri counterterrorism analysts suggested that support for Republican Rep. Ron Paul might indicate support for violent militias _ an assertion for which state officials later apologized. And Texas officials urged authorities to monitor lobbying efforts by pro Muslim-groups.

Police have good reason to want to know what to expect when protesters take to the streets. Many big cities, such as Seattle in 1999, Cincinnati in 2001 and Toledo in 2005, have seen protests turned into violent, destructive riots. Intelligence from undercover officers gives police an idea of what to expect and lets them plan accordingly.

“There was no political surveillance,” Cohen testified in the ongoing lawsuit over NYPD’s handling of protesters at the Republican convention. “This was a program designed to determine in advance the likelihood of unlawful activity or acts of violence.”

The result of those efforts, however, was that people and organizations can be cataloged in police files for discussing political topics or advocating even legal protests, not violence or criminal activity.

By contrast, at the height of the Occupy Wall Street protests and in related protests in other cities, officials at the U.S. Homeland Security Department repeatedly urged authorities not to produce intelligence reports based simply on protest activities.

“Occupy Wall Street-type protesters mostly are engaged in constitutionally protected activity,” department officials wrote in documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the website Gawker. “We maintain our longstanding position that DHS should not report on activities when the basis for reporting is political speech.”

At the NYPD, the monitoring was carried out by the Intelligence Division, a squad that operates with nearly no outside oversight and is so secretive that police said even its organizational chart is too sensitive to publish. The division has been the subject of a series of Associated Press articles that illustrated how the NYPD monitored Muslim neighborhoods, catalogued people who prayed at mosques and eavesdropped on sermons.

The NYPD has defended its efforts, saying the threat of terrorism means officers cannot wait to open an investigation until a crime is committed. Under rules governing NYPD investigations, officers are allowed to go anywhere the public can go and can prepare reports for “operational planning.”

Though the NYPD’s infiltration of political groups before the 2004 convention generated some controversy and has become an element in a lawsuit over the arrest, fingerprinting and detention of protesters, the surveillance itself has not been challenged in court.

Flaherty, who also writes for The Huffington Post, said he was not an organizer of the summit, as police wrote in the NYPD report. He said the event described by police actually was a film festival in New Orleans that same week, suggesting that the undercover officer’s duties were more widespread than described in the report.

Flaherty said he recalls introducing a film about Palestinians but spoke only briefly and does not understand why that landed him a reference in police files.

“The only threat was the threat of ideas,” he said. “I think this idea of secret police following you around is terrifying. It really has an effect of spreading fear and squashing dissent.”

Before the terrorist attacks of September 2001, infiltrating political groups was one of the most tightly controlled powers the NYPD could use. Such investigations were restricted by a longstanding court order in a lawsuit over the NYPD’s spying on protest groups in the 1960s.

After the attacks, Cohen told a federal judge that, to keep the city safe, police must be allowed to open investigations before there’s evidence of a crime. A federal judge agreed and relaxed the rules.

Since then, police have monitored not only suspected terrorists but also entire Muslim neighborhoods, mosques, restaurants and law-abiding protesters.

Keeping tabs on planned demonstrations is a key function of Cohen’s division. Investigators with his Cyber Intelligence Unit monitor websites of activist groups, and undercover officers put themselves on email distribution lists for upcoming events. Plainclothes officers collect fliers on public demonstrations. Officers and informants infiltrate the groups and attend rallies, parades and marches.

Intelligence analysts take all this information and distill it into summaries for Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly’s daily briefing, documents show.

The April 2008 memo offers an unusually candid view of how political monitoring fit into the NYPD’s larger, post-9/11 intelligence mission. As the AP has reported previously, Cohen’s unit has transformed the NYPD into one of the most aggressive domestic intelligence agencies in the United States, one that infiltrated Muslim student groups, monitored their websites and used informants as listening posts inside mosques.

Along with the political monitoring, the document describes plans to use informants to monitor mosques for conversations about the imminent verdict in the trial of three NYPD officers charged in the 2006 shooting death of Sean Bell, an unarmed man who died in a hail of gunfire. Police were worried about how the black community, particularly the New Black Panther Party, would respond to the verdict, according to this and other documents obtained by the AP.

The document also contained details of a whitewater rafting trip that an undercover officer attended with Muslim students from City College New York.

“The group prayed at least four times a day, and much of the conversation was spent discussing Islam and was religious in nature,” the report reads.

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