Woman Prosecuted For Filming Slaughterhouse From The Road In Utah; Public Backlash Leads To Quick Reversal

from the ag-gag-gagged dept

We've written a few times now about so-called ag gag laws that have been pushed by lobbyists for the farm industry for years now. The bills are pretty ridiculous, often making it illegal to videotape or photograph an agricultural operation. While many people talked about how ridiculous the prosecutions would be under those bills, supporters insisted that the bills were really only for cases where activists were doing something really egregious. In Utah, which has one of these bills, during the debate over the bill, the Utah Sentencing Commission warned that it could be used against anyone who merely photographed a farm. In response, Rep. Greg Hughes said: "Who would really pursue that in terms of prosecution?" Well, now we have an answer: the local prosecutor in Draper, Utah (which, coincidentally, appears to be the district Rep. Hughes represents.

As pointed out by Mike Eber, a woman named Amy Meyer used her mobile phone camera to video tape what was happening at the Dale Smith Meatpacking Company, which she could see from the street. Dale Smith, it should be noted, also happens to be the mayor of Draper. Another coincidence, I'm sure.
When the slaughterhouse manager came outside and told her to stop, she replied that she was on the public easement and had the right to film. When police arrived, she said told them the same thing. According to the police report, the manager said she was trespassing and crossed over the barbed-wire fence, but the officer noted “there was no damage to the fence in my observation.”

Meyer was allowed to leave. She later found out she was being prosecuted under the state’s new “ag-gag” law. This is the first prosecution in the country under one of these laws, which are designed to silence undercover investigators who expose animal welfare abuses on factory farms. The legislation is a direct response to a series of shocking investigations by groups like the Humane Society, Mercy for Animals, and Compassion Over Killing that have led to plant closures, public outrage, and criminal charges against workers.
Of course, as soon as this story started getting publicity, prosecutors suddenly decided that perhaps this wasn't a case to take a stand on and quickly dropped the charges. Of course, the law is still on the books (as are similar laws in a number of other states) and it's entirely possible similar cases may pop up elsewhere, when there's less publicity and press coverage.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    icon
    Ninja (profile), May 2nd, 2013 @ 7:45am

    Wow, ppl aren't giving Ms Streisand a rest these days, no?

    supporters insisted that the bills were really only for cases where activists were doing something really egregious

    What would be considered egregious? Filming an agricultural activity from afar? And even if the person somewhat trespass the property limits aren't there laws to deal with that already? What if I use telescopic lens to take pictures from afar?

    I know the Constitution means shit to most politicians nowadays but couldn't this law be challenged on Constitutional grounds?

     

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  2.  
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    Rikuo (profile), May 2nd, 2013 @ 8:57am

    So why hasn't the law been stricken down as being in violation of the First Amendment? I can agree with prosecuting someone for trespassing on private land, but that doesn't mean you can stop someone from making speech or recording it.

     

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  3.  
    identicon
    RD, May 2nd, 2013 @ 8:59am

    well...

    well, when you make laws like this and the DMCA that have *zero* consequences for filing a false claim, you're going to get *everybody* doing it.

     

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  4.  
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    Brian B. (profile), May 2nd, 2013 @ 9:12am

    "According to the police report, the manager said she was trespassing and crossed over the barbed-wire fence"

    Shouldn't the plant manager face some sort of discipline for making false accusations?

     

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  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 2nd, 2013 @ 9:14am

    Re:

    "couldn't this law be challenged on Constitutional grounds?"

    I'm sure it could. But not by this woman, since the charges were dropped. And according to the article, that was the first prosecution in the country under one of those laws. So it might be tricky finding someone with standing to sue.

     

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  6.  
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    Glen, May 2nd, 2013 @ 9:18am

    I kinda hoped that would go to trial. I would have loved to see that law get struck down. I know it would have been an unnecessary burden for the mayor but we need to get that law under the microscope.

     

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  7.  
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    jupiterkansas (profile), May 2nd, 2013 @ 9:22am

    All this means is slaughterhouses are going to start building walls around their properties so people can't look in. Surprised it hasn't happened already.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 2nd, 2013 @ 9:23am

    Its too bad it didn't. What it basically means is that people doing messed up stuff can hide it and when they get caught they can complain to the court about trespassing.

     

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  9.  
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    Johnny Canada, May 2nd, 2013 @ 9:40am

    NY Police Chief Ray Kelly

    Does that mean he and his friends can not put in cameras in agri areas.

     

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  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 2nd, 2013 @ 9:42am

    Re:

    So why hasn't the law been stricken down as being in violation of the First Amendment?

    Because laws can only be challenged by people who have actually been hurt by them. So until someone actually has their rights totally trampled, the law will go unchallenged.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 2nd, 2013 @ 9:48am

    Even worse then this are laws banning filming around oil drilling. Which means if another BP spill happens, and you film the oil spill, the oil company can get the state to prosecute you for filming oiling spilling all over the place and damaging the environment.

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 2nd, 2013 @ 9:50am

    Re: well...

    The counter is for everyone to start ignoring that law.

    Maybe a "Fight corruption, film a farm" campaign?

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 2nd, 2013 @ 9:50am

    Alrighty, I think it's time to troll. Didn't we just get an article about CCTV camera's in public places being bad? Now we have a private citizen filming in a public place being punished as bad? This seems to me to be a bit contradictory.

    On your mark: Let the flame wars start.

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 2nd, 2013 @ 9:51am

    Re:

    I think you underestimate the sheer size of a slaughterhouse or a factory farm. Something like that would cost millions.

     

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  15.  
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    DOlz (profile), May 2nd, 2013 @ 9:51am

    I don't believe this law allows for a law enforcement exception.

    Look for my Kickstarter coming soon for my new company Soylant Green enterprises. We can solve your personnel problems and the results are delicious.

     

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  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 2nd, 2013 @ 9:52am

    Re: NY Police Chief Ray Kelly

    +1

    I was going to say something to that affect. They want their cake and to eat it too.

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 2nd, 2013 @ 9:52am

    Remember, if you're a rich farmowner, you can lie to police and nothing will ever happen to you.

    It's like we're roaring into the 19th century all over again.

     

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  18.  
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    Applesauce, May 2nd, 2013 @ 9:52am

    Secret arrest needed to avoid backlash

    We see here the obvious solution to the public backlash issue: publicity. If only it were possible to keep the arrest secret (perhaps by classifying photography as a terrorist activity), then this reversal of the arrest would not have happened.

    Perhaps some will learn a lesson from this. What lesson? Who will learn? Left as an exercise for the reader.

     

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  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 2nd, 2013 @ 10:27am

    "This is the first prosecution in the country under one of these laws, which are designed to silence undercover investigators who expose animal welfare abuses on factory farms."

    Good god, yes let's prosecute whistle blowers and protect the criminals! What could go wrong?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 2nd, 2013 @ 10:27am

    "This is the first prosecution in the country under one of these laws, which are designed to silence undercover investigators who expose animal welfare abuses on factory farms."

    Good god, yes let's prosecute whistle blowers and protect the criminals! What could go wrong?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    Wolfy, May 2nd, 2013 @ 10:41am

    Re:

    One word. UAV

     

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  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 2nd, 2013 @ 10:44am

    the law was implemented to stop the truth from coming out. the case was dropped because the truth would have come out and broadcast everywhere. that would really not have done certain industries much good but i bet it would have done a certain person and a certain office a whole lot of harm!

     

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  23.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 2nd, 2013 @ 10:45am

    It's amazing how prosecutors abuse their prosecutorial discretion to go after mostly poor and defenseless defendants breaking victimless laws that threaten big giant business entities but that big corporations and monopolists (that often benefit from govt granted monopoly power) and the government can basically do whatever they want with little fear of being prosecuted by the govt.

    Something needs to change. I do not want the govt prosecuting every joe blow because they did something as harmless as infringe copy'right' and this hurts the bottom line of big corporations. I want the government to criminally prosecute those at Bayer responsible for knowingly delivering aids tainted blood to others and I want these criminals to go to jail for a long time.

    (Youtube search Bayer Aids Tained Blood since the link gets moderated)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 2nd, 2013 @ 10:45am

    It's amazing how prosecutors abuse their prosecutorial discretion to go after mostly poor and defenseless defendants breaking victimless laws that threaten big giant business entities but that big corporations and monopolists (that often benefit from govt granted monopoly power) and the government can basically do whatever they want with little fear of being prosecuted by the govt.

    Something needs to change. I do not want the govt prosecuting every joe blow because they did something as harmless as infringe copy'right' and this hurts the bottom line of big corporations. I want the government to criminally prosecute those at Bayer responsible for knowingly delivering A i d s (sorry, moderation problems) tainted blood to others and I want these criminals to go to jail for a long time.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4absF7ykstc

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
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    btr1701 (profile), May 2nd, 2013 @ 10:52am

    Re:

    > I can agree with prosecuting someone for
    > trespassing on private land, but that doesn't
    > mean you can stop someone from making speech
    > or recording it.

    Actually, it does. I can make whatever rules I like for my own property. If I don't want people recording while there, I can legally do that. You don't have any constitutional right to film or speak or whatever on someone else's private property. (Try attending a taping of the TONIGHT SHOW or JIMMY KIMMEL or any other kind of show with a studio audience. Not only do they prohibit recordings, they run you through metal detectors and take your phones/cameras away from you and secure them until the show is over and you leave. You don't like it? You're free to not attend the show.)

    The reason this case is different-- and why the charges were dropped-- is because this woman wasn't on private property when she was filming. She was on the public road, which makes all the difference in the world from a legal perspective.

     

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  26.  
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    btr1701 (profile), May 2nd, 2013 @ 10:54am

    Re: Re:

    > One word. UAV

    Unless you can afford the really expensive ones that can take pictures from high altitude, low altitude overflight of private property is still trespassing.

     

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  27.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), May 2nd, 2013 @ 11:00am

    Re: Re:

    If I don't want people recording while there, I can legally do that.


    Only indirectly. If someone violates your rules, you don't have the right, for example, to confiscate their recording.

    You cannot make a rule that has the force of law that says "no recording". However, you can tell the person to leave if they're breaking your house rules. If they refuse to do so, then they're trespassing and can be prosecuted for that.

     

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  28.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), May 2nd, 2013 @ 11:04am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Actually, That's not expensive at all. You can put together a high-enough-altitude surveillance platform for under $500. You'll be breaking FAA rules if you operate it without a license (you need to be licensed to go above 500ft), of course.

     

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  29.  
    identicon
    Greggore, May 2nd, 2013 @ 11:22am

    No more fvcking laws!

    All laws restricting media capture outside of Military installations and private places (ie bathrooms and changing rooms) need to be removed from the books. We have way to many laws in this world and most should be erased!

    Imagine bringing someone from 1970 into this world, how many laws would they break in the first week...? How about someone from 1930 and how many laws would they break in the first day.... how about someone from 1890? how many laws would they break in the first hour? Now we couldn't even think about any one before 1830 could we?

    We have to many laws and the lawyers and politicians have run away with law making for their own purposes (and often for businesses agendas). Go back to the 6/10ths of the 10 commandments and and a few of our major laws and start from there. I would hate to think how restrictive my life will be in my old age.

     

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  30.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 2nd, 2013 @ 11:57am

    Re: No more fvcking laws!

    More importantly, most current laws restricting media distribution should be abolished. This includes govt. established cableco and broadcasting monopolies. Now, I'm not saying that there should be no laws regulating these distribution channels but the current laws are a government restriction on free speech and should be abolished.

    All govt established broadcasting and cableco monopolies for commercial use or into the hands of private entities should be abolished. No one should have a govt established commercial advantage and no private entity should have a govt established media advantage. These are unconstitutional being that when the govt sets up media gateways the govt is effectively limiting and influencing (the distribution of) speech based on the discretion of those receiving these monopoly privileges. The govt has no business limiting and influencing speech and such is an unconstitutional abrogation of my rights.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 2nd, 2013 @ 12:05pm

    Re: Re:

    You still can't stop them from recording from public property. At that point if you don't want to be recorded, it's your responsibility to hide (privatize) whatever you don't want to be public.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 2nd, 2013 @ 12:10pm

    Re: No more fvcking laws!

    I will at the first sight of this deregulation put up 10 permanent cameras outside your house just for fun, deal?

    What has happened with the wild lawgasms lawyers have gotten since 1970 or worse, the last 10 years is another matter though and there is a very good point there! There is a desperate need for deregulation on some areas and yes, many of the new laws today are a result from lobbyism and politicians protecting their "home-state interests".

     

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  33.  
    icon
    Jesse (profile), May 2nd, 2013 @ 12:31pm

    Re: Re:

    Really? I thought unconstitutional laws could be challenged just for being unconstitutional??

    I mean, anyone who has had their speech chilled for fear of being prosecuted has been harmed, no?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
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    Jesse (profile), May 2nd, 2013 @ 12:35pm

    Re: Re:

    Right but if you are on private property and you break rules that you have been informed of, you are trespassing. The speech itself is not the crime, it's the trespassing. That's the difference.

    It doesn't actually give police the ability to arrest you for filming, only for trespassing (by breaking the rules by filming).

    Maybe you could make some corporate spying or wiretapping laws work?

     

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  35.  
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    loaderboy (profile), May 2nd, 2013 @ 12:53pm

    Re: sue Google

    Checked the link. If you try to zoom in where the cows are going into the slaughterhouse they are blurred out. Maybe because they are naked?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 2nd, 2013 @ 3:26pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Well, it might be possible to show standing if you can prove that the law is actively preventing you from doing something. But it's more difficult. You can't just say that the law prevented you from taping last week, because last week is already gone, and striking down the law won't change that. You can't just say that the law is preventing you from taping NEXT week, because by the time the lawsuit gets looked at, next week will also be in the past. You'd really need to find the right plaintiff, probably one that would want to make these tapes on an ongoing basis.

     

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  37.  
    identicon
    Andrew D. Todd, May 2nd, 2013 @ 3:45pm

    The Secret Agent

    There's an article in this month's Harper's Magazine (Ted Conover, "The Way of All Flesh: Undercover in an Industrial Slaughterhouse", Harpers, May 2013, pp.31-49), about conditions in a meat-packing plant. Mr Conover got a job as a federal meat inspector. The federal civil service system is extremely fair, much more so than any private employment system. There is no such thing as "over-qualified" in the federal system (*). If you are an American citizen, have a clean police record, one or more good college degrees, the ability to ace standardized tests without difficulty, and the willingness to ship out to wherever there is an opening, even if it is in a small town a couple of thousand miles away, in short, if you are an exemplary applicant, you can basically have a commonplace job such as mail carrier or meat inspector for the asking. Since Conover is Distinguished Writer in Residence at NYU's Journalism school, and has written several books, he qualifies, obviously. Equally obviously, the USDA doesn't have to ask nicely about putting meat inspectors into a meat-packing plant, and it's none of the meat-packing company's damm business if one of the meat inspectors seems to be a sometime college professor. Most of the meat inspectors are former plant workers, who went to night school to qualify for a better federal job.

    Here is the USDA job sheet:

    http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Careers/How_to_Apply_Food_Inspector/index.asp
    https://www.usajob s.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/318165500

    (*) One time, I was eating in McDonald's, and two people from the head office were conducting employment interviews for a manager position in the next booth, which gives you an idea how McDonald's operates. At any rate, they interviewed a candidate who was an engineering student, and then, after he had left, decided against him, on the grounds that they could not see why someone like that would want to work for them-- they didn't want someone who would quit the day he got his degree. They wanted someone who would be their slave.

     

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  38.  
    identicon
    hp, May 2nd, 2013 @ 4:51pm

    double standard is the rule

    Why wasn't the manager charged with making false statements to the police? If the lady taking the photos had lied about her actions do you think she might be charged?

    Oh, right. She doesn't work for the "mayor."

     

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  39.  
    identicon
    Angry Voter, May 3rd, 2013 @ 5:13am

    Truth is Treason in the Kingdom of Lies

    -Dr. Ron Paul

    Only an evil government would make laws against truth.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 3rd, 2013 @ 5:55am

    Re: Re:

    If someone were charged, and consulted an attorney (incurring costs) before the charges were dropped, would that constitute sufficient damage to have standing? If they were detained, would that constitute sufficient damage? IANAL.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41.  
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    NaBUru38 (profile), May 3rd, 2013 @ 1:16pm

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  42.  
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    btr1701 (profile), May 4th, 2013 @ 11:30am

    Re: Re: Re:

    > You cannot make a rule that has the force of law that says "no recording"

    I can do what the TV shows do and confiscate all recording devices at the entrance to my property and only give them back on departure. Don't like it? Don't come on my property.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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