Misdemeanor charges against a Salt Lake City woman believed to be the first person charged under Utah’s recently passed “Ag-Gag” law were dismissed Tuesday, a day after her case went public on social media.
Amy Meyer, 25, was charged with agricultural operation interference, a class B misdemeanor, in Draper Justice Court on Feb. 19. Meyer was charged in connection with an incident on Feb. 8 at the Dale T. Smith and Sons Meat Packing Company in Draper, UT.
According to Meyer’s attorney Stewart Gollan, Meyer, who is interested in animal food production and the treatment of food animals, had heard from others that animals at the slaughterhouse facility were being openly mistreated.
Meyer also heard that the company’s operations were easily viewed from the public roadway, so she went to see for herself.
Standing on the public sidewalk, Meyer witnessed what she believed to be the mistreatment of a downed cow. She was using her cell phone to film the incident when she was approached by an individual believed to be a company employee.
The individual informed Meyer that she was not allowed to film. Meyer responded that she was on public property, and therefore within her rights to record what she saw.
“She was very clearly aware of what the law prohibited and what it didn’t and felt her conduct didn’t run afoul of the law,” Gollan said of his client.
Gollan was referring to Utah’s “Ag Gag” bill, HB 187, which was signed into law in 2012. HB 187 is Utah’s version of a series of bills which criminalizes undercover investigations of animal abuse in agricultural or livestock operations. These types of legislation are commonaly referred to as “Ag Gag” legislation because they have the effect of quashing investigation, and silencing would-be whistleblowers.
Utah’s HB 187 makes it illegal to film or record livestock or poultry operations, including recording sound or images, without the owner’s permission. HB 187 also prohibits accepting employment at these operations with the intent of making a record of the operating procedures.
The law was passed in Utah during the 2012 legislative session, although Utah had never had a known case of surreptitious investigation on an agricultural property.
Ag Gag legislation has come under scrutiny not only because of its potential to silence whistle-blowers and protect animal abusers, but also because of its implications as a constitutional infringement on 1st Amendment Rights.
In Meyer’s case, she was on public property, and therefore had the right to record what she saw. In fact, police were called, Meyer was questioned, and she was released.
Nevertheless, the Draper city attorney’s office subsequently charged Meyer with a class B misdemeanor. Her charge is believed to be the first such charge under the wave of Ag Gag legislation being pushed through the states, and Utah State Courts spokeswoman Nancy Volmer confirmed Tuesday that Meyer was the first person to be prosecuted under the Utah law.
Meyer has always maintained that she never left public porperty. A statement released by her attorney, said:
I visited the Smith Meatpacking Slaughterhouse in Draper, Utah because I have heard numerous reports that any bystander standing on the public thoroughfare could witness the horror of cows struggling for their lives as they were led to their violent deaths. What I saw was upsetting, to say the least. Cows being led inside the building struggled to turn around once they smelled and heard the misery that awaited them inside. I saw piles of horns scattered around the property and flesh being spewed from a chute on the side of the building. I also witnessed what I believe to be a clear act of cruelty to animals – a live cow who appeared to be sick or injured being carried away from the building in a tractor, as though she were nothing more than rubble.
At all times while I documented this cruelty, I remained on public property. I never once crossed the barbed wire fence that exists to demarcate private and public property. I told this to the police who were on the scene.
I am shocked and disappointed that I am being prosecuted by Draper City simply for standing on public property and documenting horrific animal abuse while those who perpetrated these acts are free to continue maiming and killing animals.
It is my understanding that the Mayor of Draper co-owns this slaughterhouse.
Darrell Smith is the Mayor of Draper, and one of the owners of the Dale T. Smith and Sons Meat Packing Company.
On April 18, Meyer appeared in court, where she pleaded not guilty to the charge. On Monday, Will Potter, an independent journalist, reported on her case. Within hours, Meyer’s story had gone viral, resulting in emails and phone calls to the prosecutors’ office.
Court records show that prosecutors filed a motion to dismiss on Tuesday. The dismissal was granted by Judge Daniel Bertch.
“Based on what was presented in their motion, they [the prosecutors] had concerns about the sufficiency of the evidence going forward,” Gollan said.
Prosecutor Benjamin Rasmussen said his office moved to dismiss the case after he received new evidence during her hearing April 18. At the hearing, Rasmussen explained, Meyer provided video footage showing that she was on public property during at least some of the time she was filming the slaughterhouse. Rasmussen added that other footage left Meyer’s position ambiguous but he nevertheless decided to drop the case.
“I determined that in the interest of justice I wouldn’t pursue the matter,” he said.
It is not clear what, if any, action will be pursued against the owners of the slaughterhouse.