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Conklin cleared of animal abuse allegations

PD Editor Karen Lee Published on 07 July 2010

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On July 6, a Union County Grand Jury cleared Gary Conklin, co-owner of Conklin Dairy Cattle Sales LLC in Plain City, Ohio, and others, of allegations of animal abuse brought about by the Mercy for Animals YouTube video release on May 26.

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Released of all charges, Conklin talked freely with Progressive Dairyman Editor Karen Lee, answering the questions that follow.

Q: How were you made aware of the video?
CONKLIN: I first learned of the video when a reporter called and asked if I was aware of the video to be released at a later date. They alluded that it would be posted to YouTube in the next 24 hours. I went home and saw it that night on YouTube.

Q: What was your initial reaction?
CONKLIN: Absolutely destroyed. Terrible. We had no idea anything like that was going on. It made all of us family members feel absolutely terrible. We saw it late in the evening and immediately began discussing firing the employee [Billy Joe Gregg] in the video when he arrived for his shift at 6 a.m. the next morning. We began the termination process, getting our attorney and local sheriff involved to have them there when he arrived for work.

Q: Whom did you turn to for advice?
CONKLIN: Initially our attorney, after seeing the video and how it does not replicate in any shape, way or form how we treat our animals or how we want them to be treated. Our initial goal was to fire that employee and for him to face legal consequences brought by local officials.

Q: Were there any signs that something was going on that you now see in retrospect?

CONKLIN: The employee, Billy Joe Gregg, doing the abuse was born and raised on a dairy farm in Michigan. He had milked cows consistently and cared for young animals. There were no red flags. According to his resume, he was honorably discharged from the military and claimed to be an Iraq veteran.

No probable cause
According to a press release from the Union County prosecuting attorney, the grand jury found no probable cause to believe Conklin committed any crime.

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“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.

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 that remain down are at risk of injury or death.

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 Conklin, and that Conklin did not know of the abuse by Billy Joe 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.

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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 U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“Threats of harm against the Conklins may be a felony under the federal Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act,” Phillips said. “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.”

Read more of this interview and Gary Conklin's comments about Mercy for Animals and his plans for the future in the July 21st issue of Progressive Dairyman magazine. PD

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