Two dairy farm workers received 20-day jail sentences Wednesday in the first cases prosecuted after undercover videos showed cows being beaten, burned and kept in horrific conditions at dairy farms in Okeechobee County.
Fernando Lopez Cruz and Naul Dorantes-Garcia worked at McArthur Dairy, where they were among the workers videotaped abusing cows, in an undercover operation conducted by Animal Recovery Mission, a Miami Beach animal rights group that specializes in infiltrating suspected animal abusers.
Videos taken at the Burnham, Davie, Larson and McArthur dairy farms showed cows being punched, kicked, stabbed with pipes and burned alive. They showed calves kept in miserable conditions in tiny cages, exposed to sun and rain. The videos led to a national outcry and prompted Publix Super Markets to suspend deliveries of milk from the farms.
The two men pleaded no contest to one count each of misdemeanor cruelty to animals. The jail time could be served on what’s called a weekend work program, where they work off the time by showing up Saturday and Sunday.
Richard Couto, founder and lead investigator for Animal Rescue Mission, called the sentences light but said they set an important precedent.
“This being the first conviction in the history of the State of Florida, at a working dairy farm, I am pleased with the outcome, despite the light sentencing,” he said. “This country has a long way to go in sentencing its animals abusers.”
County Judge Jerald D. Bryant also sentenced them to 72 hours of community service to be performed at an animal rescue organization, one year’s probation and the payment of $370 in court and prosecution costs.
Ashley Albright, attorney-in-charge of the Okeechobee County Office for the 19th Judicial Circuit Office of the State Attorney, said he was satisfied with the sentences.
“I think these were fair sentences,” he said. “Neither of them had a criminal record. Certainly what they did was inappropriate, and they deserved to be punished for it, and they acknowledged it.”
He said two more dairy workers are being prosecuted, and warrants are out for two or three more.
Couto had previously expressed concern that the response to the investigation would be limited to the prosecution of low-level workers, rather than a halt to the abuse that he says is systemic in the industry. The group advises consumers to switch to non-dairy alternatives, such as almond or soy milk.