No Additional Charges To Be Filed In Animal Abuse Case - NBC4: Columbus, Ohio News, Weather, and Sports (WCMH-TV)

No Additional Charges To Be Filed In Animal Abuse Case

Posted:
By Donna Willis, Tom Brockman

UNION COUNTY, Ohio – A grand jury decides charges will not be brought against the owner of a Central Ohio dairy farm where an employee was fired after the release of an undercover videotape depicting animal abuse.

It's a story NBC 4 has been following since Tuesday, May 25, when the video was released to the media.

A Union County Grand Jury on Tuesday cleared Gary Conklin, owner of Conklin Dairy Cattle Sales LLC based near Plain City, and other people of allegations of animal abuse.

The grand jury found no probable cause to believe Conklin committed any crime.

"They saw the unedited video of Mr. Conklin's actions, not the highly inflammatory version released on YouTube by Mercy for Animals," said Union County Prosecuting Attorney David Phillips. "In context, Mr. Conklin’s actions were entirely appropriate."

In the YouTube video, a short segment of Conklin kicking a cow was spliced between scenes of animals being abused by Billy Joe Gregg, according to Phillips.

"The YouTube video created a perception that Mr. Conklin was involved in this abuse, which was simply not true," Phillips said. "It wasn't my decision. It wasn't law enforcement's decision. It was the grand jury that decided there was not sufficient evidence to bring charges."

Mercy For Animals said the decision not to charge Conklin has failed concerned citizens and animals that deserve protection, giving Conklin Farms "a free pass" for animal abuse.

"Mercy For Animals was the only true watchdog and defender the animals at Conklin Dairy Farms had," said Daniel Hauff, the group's director of investigations. "The dairy industry and local law enforcement had all failed to detect the abuse or hold the abusers accountable."

Gregg, 25, was arrested Wednesday, May 26, in connection with the alleged abuse.

The charges against Gregg were filed after Mercy For Animals, an animal-welfare group, released graphic video Tuesday that secretly was recorded and shows workers at Conklin Dairy Cattle Sales LLC, beating cows with crowbars, stabbing them with pitchforks and punching them in their heads.

Gregg originally was charged with 12 counts of cruelty to animals. He was arrested Wednesday, May 26.

The cruelty to animals charges all are second-degree misdemeanors. Each count is punishable by as many as 90 days in jail.  

Gregg later also was charged with one count of improperly handling firearms in a motor vehicle, a fourth-degree felony.

Gregg arranged for someone to take his vehicle home while he was in custody. During the transfer of the vehicle, law-enforcement officials said they found a loaded handgun in the vehicle’s console.

If convicted on the firearms charge, Gregg faces as many as 18 months in prison. If convicted on all counts, he faces as many as four years in jail.

Gregg pleaded not guilty to all charges Thursday, June 10.

Gregg received a $15,000 bond for the felony count Thursday. He already was being held on $100,000 bond for the animal-cruelty charges.

He remains at Tri-County Regional Jail in Mechanicsburg in lieu of $115,000 bond.

A trial for the animal cruelty charges was scheduled for Aug. 16.

Many who spoke to NBC 4 in the community said they agree with the decision.

"They've had beautiful animals and I've seen them years ago and I like them. I thought they were well taken care of," said Leroy Williams, of Marysville.

"If the evidence is not there in order to further the investigation or bring charges to the farm, I guess we have to follow the lines of the law," said Robyn Thomas, of Plain City.

Others feel differently.

On NBC4i.com, AnnieM said, "Being from Union County guess it's true money talks even when evidence proves abuse was done by owner of farm how sad that is for the defenseless animals."

Press Release from the Office of the Union County Prosecuting Attorney

Grand Jury Considers Conklin Dairy Case

A Union County Grand Jury has cleared Gary Conklin, owner of Conklin Farms in Plain City and others, of allegations of animal abuse.

The grand jury found no probable cause to believe Mr. Conklin committed any crime. "They saw the unedited video of Mr. Conklin’s actions, not the highly inflammatory version released on YouTube by Mercy for Animals," said David Phillips, Union County Prosecuting Attorney.  "In context, Mr. Conklin’s actions were entirely appropriate."   In the YouTube video, a short segment of Gary Conklin kicking a cow was spliced between scenes of animals being abused by Billy Joe Gregg. "The YouTube video created a perception that Mr. Conklin was involved in this abuse, which was simply not true," said the prosecutor. 

Phillips explained that the cow depicted in the video needed to be gotten up to avoid further injury to the animal.  "These animals, sometimes called ‘downer cows’ must be brought to their feet. The sheriff’s office had the video reviewed by four experts, each of whom agreed that Mr. Conklin’s actions were entirely appropriate." The prosecutor noted that the experts were veterinarians with extensive experience in large animal care.  Each agreed that delivering a sharp blow to the animal to get it to rise was not abuse.  The veterinarians told law enforcement that cows who remain down are at risk of injury or death. "They told us that a cow’s muscles may atrophy.  Once that happens, the cow may never get up, and may suffer and die."

Along with reviewing segments of the tapes, the grand jury heard testimony from Dr.  Tony Forshey,  DVM, the Chief of the Division of Animal Industry for the Ohio Department of Agriculture, as well as the director of the Union County Humane Society and several other witnesses.

The grand jury also heard testimony from the undercover operative put on the Conklin Farm by Mercy for Animals, Jason Smith of Texas.  Smith had told law enforcement that he did not witness any abuse by Mr. Conklin, and that Mr. Conklin did not know of the abuse by Billy Joe Gregg.  "Neither Smith nor Mercy for Animals brought the abuse to Mr. Conklin’s attention," said Phillips, "the first time he became aware of this abuse was when he saw the video on YouTube. When he became aware, Mr. Conklin immediately fired Gregg."  Phillips said the grand jury also considered charges against another employee of the farm, the undercover agent, and Mercy for Animals officials, but ultimately decided there was not enough evidence to proceed against them.  Smith told deputies that he had kicked animals and poked them with a pitchfork. "He claimed he did so to maintain his cover, and said he didn’t use his full strength." said Phillips. 

Phillips wonders why law enforcement wasn’t told about the abuse earlier.  "The investigator told me that MFA was aware of the abuse, since he reported to them on a daily basis.  MFA allowed the abuse to continue, unreported, and the animals to suffer at the hands of Billy Joe Gregg.  They allowed it to continue for three weeks so they could film it." Phillips said it was wrong not to call law enforcement immediately.  "As soon as the investigator and MFA became aware of Mr. Gregg’s actions, someone should have notified law enforcement or the humane society.  Had they done so, much of the abuse at the hands of Billy Joe Gregg shown on the video never would have happened, and the animals would have been spared."

The prosecutor praised the Union County Sheriff’s Office for their thorough investigation of the farm.  "The deputy who investigated this case went far beyond the allegations made by Mercy for Animals. Deputy Mike Justice, who recently returned from an assignment with the federal D.E.A. task force, interviewed dozens of witnesses and experts, reviewed the tapes and hundreds of pages of documents," he said.  The sheriff’s office was assisted by the Union County Humane Society, the Union County Health Department, and the Ohio Department of Agriculture in the investigation. 

Phillips said that law enforcement continues to receive reports of threats against the Conklin family and farm.  He said such threats are being taken seriously, and will be prosecuted.  A referral may also be made to the United States Attorney’s Office.  "Threats of harm against the Conklins may be a felony under the federal Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act," said Phillips.   "Blogs and internet sites continue to advocate harassing Mr. Conklin and his family.  Some have called for violence, including murder. This federal law is designed to meet just this situation."

Billy Joe Gregg faces twelve counts of animal cruelty in the Marysville Municipal Court, each a misdemeanor of the second degree.  Ohio law sets the maximum sentence on these charges to eighteen months in jail.  Gregg also faces a fourth degree felony weapons charge in the Union County Court of Common Pleas.  The felony carries a maximum of eighteen months in prison. 

Media Statement from Conklin Dairy Cattle Sales LLC

The following statement is issued by Gary Conklin, co-owner of Conklin Dairy Cattle Sales LLC in Plain City, Ohio.  It responds to the announcement released July 6, 2010 by the Union County Prosecutor’s Office regarding the recent grand jury decision that no charges will be brought against the farm.

“Today’s announcement by the Union County Prosecutor is a bittersweet one for our family.  Without question, it is gratifying that the grand jury found no reason to bring any charges against our farm, family members or current employees.  However, we remain extraordinarily saddened by the willful abuse of animals on our farm by one of our former workers, as seen on the undercover video.  It does not reflect our family’s long-standing commitment to animal care and well-being.

“Independent veterinary reviews and work with local humane society officials is ongoing, along with other corrective measures on our farm.  The mistreatment shown on the video is unacceptable and a number of steps have been taken to prevent it from happening again.

 “This has been a terrible time for the Conklin family, and we thank those in the community who have given us continuous support.  We also thank local legal authorities for their forthright, professional and thorough attention to this investigation, as well as for their ongoing protection of our family and our farm in light of continuing threats of personal attack and property destruction being made against us.

“It is our hope that Conklin Dairy Cattle Sales can put this matter behind us, redouble our efforts to ensuring excellent care of our animals, maintain our commitment to our community, and operate our farm as we have done for four generations.

Media Statement From Mercy For Animals

Mercy For Animals' Director of Investigations, Daniel Hauff, made the following statement today regarding news that Union County law enforcement will not file criminal charges against additional employees, or the owner, of Conklin Dairy Farms:

Law enforcement has essentially given a free pass to Conklin Dairy Farms, and in the process has failed concerned citizens and the animals they are entrusted to protect.

It is disappointing that Conklin Dairy Farms' owner is not being held criminally accountable for the long-standing, sadistic and malicious cruelty to animals perpetrated at his facility.

The video on YouTube is an accurate representation of the long-standing abuse that animals at Conklin Dairy Farms were subjected to. Gary Conklin's actions were depicted in the video exactly as they occurred. The evidence indicates that all parties at the facility knew about Billy Joe Gregg, Jr.'s violent abuse of animals, and allowed it to continue for months before Mercy For Animals even launched its investigation.

Gary Conklin was caught on hidden camera violently and repeatedly kicking a downed cow in her face. If such abuse is considered legal in Ohio, compassionate citizens should have serious concerns regarding the array of "acceptable abuses" animals endure in the dairy industry.

The evidence presented to law enforcement clearly indicated that Gary Conklin had knowledge of an ongoing pattern of cruelty to animals at his dairy farm, yet failed to address the issue - allowing long-time employees to continue beating, stabbing, kicking, and torturing animals. In fact, workers acknowledged on hidden camera that Conklin witnessed employees torturing cows and newborn calves, yet repeatedly failed to terminate them.

This case graphically illustrates that animal agriculture in Ohio is incapable of self-regulation, and that stronger state and federal laws are urgently needed to detect and deter future abuse.

We believe the egregious violence that animals at Conklin Dairy Farms were subjected to had been occurring for many months before we launched our investigation. This abuse would likely still be occurring today, unchecked, without the important work of Mercy For Animals' undercover investigation.

Mercy For Animals was the only true watchdog and defender the animals at Conklin Dairy Farms had. The dairy industry and local law enforcement had all failed to detect the abuse or hold the abusers accountable. Law enforcement should praise Mercy For Animals' important work to protect the cows and calves who were stabbed, punched, kicked, and tortured at Conklin Dairy Farms.

The Associated Press contributed information to this story.

  • Local NewsLocal NewsMore>>

  • Water Recovery Team Finds Body In Bennington Township Pond

    Water Recovery Team Finds Body In Bennington Township Pond

    Saturday, August 30 2014 8:19 PM EDT2014-08-31 00:19:42 GMT
    A man's body was found in a pond after drowning Saturday evening.A man's body was found in a pond after drowning Saturday evening.
    Licking County sheriff says a man's body has been recovered from a pond after drowning in Bennington Township.
    Licking County sheriff says a man's body has been recovered from a pond after drowning in Bennington Township.
  • Columbus City Council Member Resigns

    Columbus City Council Member Resigns

    Friday, August 29 2014 4:52 PM EDT2014-08-29 20:52:23 GMT
    A. Troy MillerA. Troy Miller
    A member of Columbus City Council will be stepping down at the end of September.
    A member of Columbus City Council will be stepping down at the end of September.
  • Ohio State Hears From Ex-Band Director's Backers

    Ohio State Hears From Ex-Band Director's Backers

    Friday, August 29 2014 2:57 PM EDT2014-08-29 18:57:40 GMT
    Ohio State trustees have heard from a designated band alumnus and an outraged parent without further comment on the firing of marching band director Jonathan Waters.
    Ohio State trustees have heard from a designated band alumnus and an outraged parent without further comment on the firing of marching band director Jonathan Waters.
Powered by WorldNow

3165 Olentangy River Road
Columbus, OH 43202

Telephone: 614.263.4444
Fax: 614.263.0166
Email: stories@nbc4i.com

NBC4 BBB Business Review
Can't find something?
Powered by WorldNow
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2014 Media General Communications Holdings, LLC. A Media General Company.