From: Office of the Union County Prosecuting Attorney
Date: July 6, 2010.
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.