SALEM, Ohio – A district judge has ruled video footage of alleged animal cruelty at a Mount Joy, Pa., egg farm can be used in an upcoming trial.
H. Glenn Esbenshade, owner of Esbenshade Egg Farms, and Jay Musser, farm manager, each face 35 counts of animal cruelty. The charges stemmed from video footage shot by John Brothers, an undercover animal rights activist who posed as an employee on the farm from Nov. 30 through Dec. 9, 2005.
Charges. The charges were filed in January after Brothers showed the video to Johnna Seeton, a Pennsylvania-certified humane officer.
Brothers is affiliated with Compassion Over Killing, a Washington D.C.-based animal rights group that focuses on cruelty to animals in agriculture and promotes vegetarianism.
A representative from the Humane Society of the U.S. said Brothers was not working for the group when he shot the video.
The defendants’ attorneys tried to establish a connection between Brothers and Seeton and argued the video violated search-and-seizure laws.
“We believed John Brothers was acting as an agent of the commonwealth through his association with Compassion Over Killing and the humane society and their relationship with Johnna Seeton,” said Chris Patterson, Esbenshade’s attorney.
No connection. However, District Judge Jayne F. Duncan did not find a connection between Seeton and Brothers and said the video will be admitted as evidence in the trial.
The video allegedly shows over-crowded living conditions, hens suffering from untreated illnesses and injuries, birds impaled on cage wires and hens living amid the decomposing bodies of other birds.
Esbenshade Egg Farms is one of Pennsylvania’s largest egg producers, with 2.25 million chickens at the farm’s three facilities.
According to Patterson, the state’s animal cruelty statute makes exceptions for “normal agricultural operations.” The attorney said all activities at Esbenshade Egg Farms are normal agricultural operations.
Penalties. Each animal cruelty count carries a fine of $50-750. Punishment also includes the possibility of 90 days in jail for each violation.
A date has not been set for the trial.
(Reporter Janelle Skrinjar welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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