Judge clears Wayne County hog farmers, employee of most charges

WOOSTER, Ohio – There was a collective sigh of relief from the defendants and their supporters when Wayne County Municipal Court Judge Stuart Miller cleared Creston hog farmer Ken Wiles and his employee, Dusty Stroud, of all animal cruelty charges after a day and a half of testimony June 19-20.

One conviction

Ken Wiles’ son Joe, who manages the farm, was found guilty of one charge of animal cruelty for carrying or conveying an animal in a cruel or inhumane manner.

Video evidence gathered at the farm by an undercover animal rights investigator showed Joe Wiles throwing piglets from farrowing crates into metal carts used to move the pigs to other areas at the farm.

Joe Wiles, 22, was fined $250 plus court costs, ordered one year of probation and related fees, and ordered to attend a humane handling training session subject to review by the county humane society.

The Wileses and Dusty Stroud were charged with a combined total of 10 counts of animal cruelty. Judge Miller dismissed one count each against Stroud and Joe Wiles after hearing the state’s arguments.

Background

The slew of charges came after a former farm employee, Ingrid DiMarino, complained to the California-based Humane Farming Association about farm conditions. The association planted an undercover investigator on the farm who shot video and audio of conditions there as part of the investigation.

The association claimed it found several ongoing violations on the farm, including lack of humane euthanasia for killing sows by hanging; lack of veterinary care and adequate shelter; and filthy conditions and inhumane handling. The association also alleged gross neglect and maltreatment.

The association took its video to the Wayne County Sheriff’s department. Sheriff’s deputies, Wayne County Humane Society officials and a veterinarian raided the farm Nov. 8, 2006.

Ruling

In his ruling, Judge Stuart Miller said the hardest part in deciding the outcome of the case was the disagreement of two veterinarians who testified.

Ohio State University vet Donald Sanders, who was at the farm for the November raid and testified for the state, said he “saw situations that medical decisions needed to be made about [downed] hogs” and a lack of follow-through on care on downed sows.

But Sanders also said his overall assessment on the farm was that there were many things done correctly, that “everybody had been fed and had a roof over their head.” He described the Wiles’ method of hanging sows as “abhorrent” but did note blunt force trauma used to kill piglets was acceptable within the industry.

The defense’s expert opinion, Iowa swine veterinarian Paul Armbrecht, said national pork industry standards are simply guidelines, not law, for euthanasia.

“They are only options, but it doesn’t say anywhere they are the only options,” Armbrecht said.

Armbrecht also said that while “hanging may not be fully appropriate,” it was a practical method to euthanize an animal by asphyxia.

“It is my opinion there is no easy, safe or economical way to euthanize an adult hog,” Judge Stuart Miller said, noting he realized it’s also a difficult decision for a farmer to make.

Miller said the methods of euthanasia used on the Wiles farm – blunt force trauma to piglets, accomplished by slamming their heads into cement floors, and hanging adult animals to asphyxiate them – were “offensive,” but it seemed even the expert veterinarians “had no better way.”

Dusty Stroud’s attorney, John Johnson Jr., seemed to sum up Judge Miller’s ruling in one simple comment: “These are accepted methods of euthanasia, but it sure makes for bad video.

“Looking bad and being a crime are two different things.”

Testimony

The day-and-a-half long testimony was highlighted by video secretly recorded by an animal rights investigator who worked on the farm.

John Knoldt, who appeared as the state’s first witness, changed his name within the past year and wore a pasted-on goatee and mustache to avoid being recognized by courtroom cameras since he is participating in another undercover investigation for the Humane Farming Association.

During his six-week stint working on the Wiles farm in early 2006, Knoldt went by the name Chris Parrett. He carried a button-hole camera and microphone with him nearly every day to selectively take photos, video and audio of situations on the farm that appeared inhumane. He also kept a daily log to describe situations he witnessed.

Knoldt admitted on the stand he lied about his address and his relationship with Ingrid DiMarino, which he used to secure the job; and had no Ohio-issued private investigator’s license during the time he investigated the Wiles farm.

Knoldt also admitted to illegally trespassing onto Wiles’ property and going into barns in October 2006 – when he was no longer employed on the farm – to take photos to further the investigation.

During cross-examination, Knoldt said his only previous work with hogs was at an animal rights sanctuary, and that at least once he had noted in his daily log there was no animal cruelty observed on the farm.

Just a farmer

In a move that surprised at least a few in the gallery, defense attorney Russell Buzzelli put Ken Wiles on the stand Wednesday morning.

Buzzelli painted Wiles as a family man, a lifelong hog farmer there to defend his actions as well as some practices that are common throughout the swine industry.

When asked to describe how he felt about the other testimony, Ken Wiles said it “makes me look like a pretty shabby operator.”

But Wiles also talked about the high points of his farming operation, of farm days that began at 4:30 a.m. while no one else was there to know how he was caring for his animals, of keeping detailed feeding and animal health records, of training employees to completely run his farm.

On the stand, Wiles said his farrow-to-wean operation has 1,300-1,500 sows. The family is also involved in ventures for young nursery pigs as well as a finishing operation to see their hogs from birth to market.

Wiles also spoke of $227,000 in expenses in the last three years for vaccinations on his farm to prevent sickness and death, and the two-day protocol used to give downed animals a chance to recover before they’re pulled from the herd.

Culling and killing animals on the farm was at the heart of the animal rights battle.

Joe Wiles was charged for euthanizing a hog with a shotgun, which is a method used on the farm.

Ken Wiles explained in testimony that hanging is also used on the farm because some of his employees are convicted felons who are not allowed to handle weapons.

Disgust

Wiles expressed disgust with the way the November raid was handled. During the search, employees were in a “lock-down” situation for 10 hours, Wiles said, which made them unable to tend to the livestock and facilities.

Wiles said while authorities searched the property, he and employees couldn’t move sows to farrowing pens and an unidentified number of sows delivered litters of piglets that were cannibalized.

“Everything died, died, died, just like that, and it didn’t seem to matter to anyone,” Wiles argued.

“When you come in here at 1 [p.m. for the raid] of course you won’t see the work we’ve done all morning,” he said, noting some hogs’ feed pans would be empty at that time and that feces and urine would undoubtedly build up in pens during the 10 hours his employees weren’t able to do their normal cleaning and feeding chores.

Goes without saying

Wiles was pushed by Prosecutor Frank Forchione multiple times to explain why he didn’t include details about animal welfare in hanging situations in a police report taken during the raid.

Forchione said it appeared the only details Wiles listed on the report were about his own bottom line, safety to employees, and how quick the process was. Forchione demanded to know whether the animal’s comfort and pain was ever considered.

A calm Wiles repeated the same answer over and over: “It goes without saying.”

“When something needs put out of its misery, we do it in the quickest, most efficient and safest way we could, period,” Wiles said.

“My only income in the world is in moving that pig on to market. That pig is not going to be abused,” Wiles said.

Laughs

The courtroom gallery, packed with local farmers and residents supporting both sides, chuckled twice at the expense of Forchione.

Forchione mispronounced the word ‘sow’ as ‘so’ several times when referring to the hogs before one of his own witnesses corrected him, and also referred to the animals as having arms and hands.

Those who watched the case unfold said Forchione’s ignorance on the subject, even after months of studying the situation for the prosecution, was a sure sign of the times.

“This seems to be about people who don’t know about hog farming trying to tell him [Wiles] how to raise hogs,” said Earl Jentes, who raises cattle in Wayne County.

“There are a bunch of uneducated people making ignorant allegations like this. And if they want to eat lettuce, that’s fine, but don’t mess with the rest of us,” he said.

Myron Ramseyer, who, along with his son, runs a hog farm in the county, questioned the validity of the charges against Wiles.

“Where is the line when there isn’t a law?” he asked.

“But do pig farmers want a bunch of laws? Absolutely not,” he said. “We police ourselves.”

The Ramseyers, who said they also use blunt force trauma to euthanize sick piglets and a shotgun to euthanize adult animals, were interested to see how the court would interpret Wiles’ euthanasia methods.

“I can’t say it’s wrong just because I don’t do it that way,” Ramseyer said. “He felt he was doing the right thing.”

“In this business you have no less feelings about a hog just because it’s livestock and business, not a pet.”

Still in the works

Meanwhile, Ken Wiles is facing another lawsuit.

Ingrid DiMarino, the employee who brought the Humane Farming Association onto the Wiles farm, is suing Ken Wiles in a civil matter.

Related coverage:

Wiles trial to happen without jury (6/14/2007)

Wiles case granted June jury trial (3/22/2007)

Farmers: Look, listen and then talk (3/15/2007)

Wiles charged with animal cruelty (1/25/2007)

Farmers shouldn’t confuse concerned people with radicals (Letter, 1/11/2007)

Hog farm investigated for abuse (12/21/2006)

About the Author

Former staff reporter Andrea Zippay wrote for Farm and Dairy from 2001 to 2009. More Stories by Andrea Zippay

11 Comments

  1. C. Jay says:

    I may not know about pig farming, but I do know about common decency. Keeping an animal in a pen where they can’t even turn around is flat out wrong. Yeah, it’s food, but it also feels pain, discomfort, and fear. I don’t think it’s too much to ask that a sick animal not lay in filth and be eaten alive. I don’t think it’s too much to ask that an animal have enough room to turn around and lay down. It’s sick the way these people seem to have forgotten common decency. Most people want the pig on the dinner table to have a modicum of humane treatment before it lands there; not to much to ask at all.

  2. B. Sanders says:

    These people make me sick. I agree with the above post.

  3. kimberly says:

    The judge, the vet, the defense lawyers are all morons……

  4. David H BIrkedahl says:

    It seems the whole county needs to be brought up on charges if everyone there is aware of what is going on. Let the judge hang for awhile or wallow in his own filth and see if he then thinks in is not inhumane.

  5. Mike says:

    This was one of the hardest things to watch when I saw it on HBO. The killing of piglets like they did was cruelty at its worse. Hammer to the piglet’s head because it was too skinny? That’s horrid. I can understand that there’s not a real easy way to “put a hog to sleep,” but so far in England I’ve seen them use an electrical zap to the brain, which is instant and “seems” like they don’t even know what had happened. I say that, by meaning, you don’t know if you’ve really killed the piglet instantly by hitting him in the head… he could just there for hours in extreme pain because he goes.

    There needs to be laws against this… but not as long as our politicians keep having money hung above their heads. Welcome to America people.

  6. those people make me sick. they need to spend their life in jail.

  7. I was just changing channels on HBO, and caught the documentary, Death on a Factory Farm. How cruel they were. I know that we eat these animals, but I was under the impression that they were treated humanely. I will now start my own investigation into, were and how the food that I buy is proccesed. And I will urge people that I know, to also research and go to see personally the farms that process the meat that we buy from the stores we shop at. Thank you for openning my eyes. Not only were the handlers of these animals wrong in how they treated these animals, the judge that presided over the case should know longer be able to sit on the bench, sad day in America

  8. I think they should have hung Wiles and Stroud up by their neck to let them see if they could feel anything or not.

  9. Sharren says:

    I was raised on a farm and animals were loved and treated
    humanely. I have never seen such a powerful documentary as
    this one. I hope that farm closes down along with all the others
    that think this treatment is right. People of America look, see,
    and research where your meat comes from and how the animals
    are treated. It was so sickening and terrible to watch this
    story and I hope soon these people will be convicted and put
    some where no light shines.

  10. S.A. Lewis says:

    For over half of my life, I have chosen to not eat meat – or anything cooked with or made from meat products. It was an easy choice; made after having read about the absolute horror of “factory farming”. (Hard to even call that farming!)

    It is a choice I have never regretted, despite having grown up on a (real) farm, and having a family who still eat meat at every meal, and a brother who raises his own beef.

    Don’t misunderstand…I LIKE the TASTE of meat…but I can not tolerate the taste of the suffering and torture these animals must endure, often from birth until they are finally released from the most hellish of conditions by death.

    There is no good reason for this type of abuse, and it should not be tolerated, nor supported to any degree.

    What can we do? you have asked. Simple, let the solution start with YOU. Eat meat if you choose, but arm yourself with a bit of knowledge about what you purchase.

    There are options that exist, and items that can be consumed with a conscience clear. Every time you spend a dollar or take a bit of food, you make a choice. For the sake of these lowly animals as well as your own health, make your choice a humane one.

    Many of you found this documentary disturning; even sickening. The true horror is the fact that such treatment and worse happens every day in most if not all of the “farming operations” across America. There is no compassion or concern for animal welfare in “factory farming”.

    Mr. Ken Wiles can call it what he wants: the fact remains – he doesn’t have a farm – he has a “factory farm”.

    What can you do?

    STOP buying from companies that sell meat and meat products that come from Mr. Wiles and others like him. Let these companies know you refuse to support them and why.

    Inform your friends and family. No honestly decent person could want any part of this — most people just don’t know how bad it truly is.

    Finally, make your voice and choice heard with your VOTE. Judge Stuart Miller needs to find a heart, a mind, and a new job!

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