For coverage of the grand jury’s decision, see Conklin Dairy Farms: No additional charges.
PLAIN CITY, Ohio — When Union County dairy farmer Gary Conklin hired the now-fired animal abuser Billy Joe Gregg Jr., and undercover animal rights filmmaker Jason Smith, he did so thinking he was getting two men with good dairy experience.
It’s what their resumes and applications indicated. Gregg had reportedly worked on his family’s dairy in Michigan and had been honorably discharged from the military. Smith had worked on his family’s dairy in Texas and had worked for a painter.
Their records indicated they were experienced for the job, and they appeared that way, until late May when Conklin saw an undercover video on the Internet program YouTube, depicting Gregg purposefully abusing animals with pitchforks and metal bars, and Smith filming the actions as they took place.
“From a credential standpoint he (Gregg) appeared good,” Conklin told Farm and Dairy. “We had absolutely no idea anything was going on like what was seen in the video.”
Gregg began working for the farm in November and Smith started in April. Both workers typically completed an afternoon shift, Conklin said, when other workers were not around.
As a cattle broker, Conklin said it’s the nature of his work to be off the farm much of the day, which is partly the reason he did not observe the abuse.
Smith reportedly told law enforcement that he did not witness any abuse by Conklin, and that Conklin did not know of the abuse by Gregg.
It was the intent of Mercy for Animals — the pro-vegan organization that produced the film — to prove that the farm owner knew what was happening and allowed it to continue.
“What we need to determine was not only that the cruelty was ongoing and outstanding, but we needed to verify for law enforcement, who knew about it, who was involved in it, how much the owner (Conklin) knew, if he was involved — that’s the reason the investigation went on so that we could provide everything,” said MFA Director of Investigations, Daniel Hauff, the day Gregg was arraigned.
Union County Prosecuting Attorney David Phillips said the grand jury also considered charges against MFA and Smith, whose videotaping of the abuse spanned about a four-week period. Smith told deputies he also had kicked animals and poked them with a pitchfork.
“He (Smith) claimed he did so to maintain his cover, and said he didn’t use his full strength,” Phillips said in a released statement. “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.”
MFA responded with its own statement, saying “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.”
Phillips said it was wrong not to call law enforcement immediately.
“As soon as the investigator and MFA became aware of Gregg’s actions, someone should have notified law enforcement or the humane society,” he said. “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.”
Ultimately, the grand jury decided there was not enough evidence to proceed against MFA.
Future plans. Conklin said he plans to increase the scrutiny of applications before hiring again, and said he’s also working on ways to increase the monitoring of employees and provide a standard method to report any abuse that is seen, immediately.
Still, he can’t help but question all that has happened, and its timing.
“Was he there protecting us (and the animals) or was it more about getting horrific video because they had a petition signature drive going on?”
It’s a question he said he can’t answer, but one that should be answered by each person.
“I think its incumbent upon the people of Ohio to draw their own conclusion,” he said.
Right now, Conklin’s focus is on his business — now in its fourth-generation — and keeping up the work he believes in.
“We’re just focussed on our safety and the well-being of our cows and getting our business back on track,” he said.
He expressed his thanks for the support of local law enforcement and the sheriff’s department, the prosecutor and members of the grand jury, as well as the community and dairy industry, for their support in upholding the law and his farm.