- Andrea GantzCharges of violating Utah's ag-gag law have been dropped against four suspects who allegedly entered a hog farm to take photos.
Prosecutors in Utah are dropping charges against four animal rights activists accused of violating the state’s ag-gag law. The agricultural interference charges are being dropped at the request of Circle Four Farms, the company that operates the pig farm where the suspects allegedly trespassed to take photos of the operation.
The activists from California and Maryland will still each face one misdemeanor count of criminal trespass, said Iron County Attorney Scott Garrett. Prosecutors received the case after the four activists pleaded not guilty last week for an incident that allegedly took place in September 2014.
The agriculture interference counts came under a state law, commonly known as the ag-gag law, that makes it a crime to conduct undercover investigations of agricultural operations.
Police say the four activists from the Farm Animal Rights Movement drove onto private property at the hog farm in September and took pictures. Their lawyer says they were on a public roadway and only captured images of farm buildings, not workers or animals.
Attorney T. Matthew Phillips has said his clients wanted to retrace the pigs' path to a California slaughterhouse, not provoke an arrest. They are Sarah Jane Gage, 43, of Los Angeles; Robert Penney, 64, of Laguna Beach, California; Harold Weiss, 34, of Pasadena, California; and Bryan Monell, 50, of Mount Rainier, Maryland, according to court records.
Circle Four Farms is part of Murphy-Brown LLC, the livestock production subsidiary of the world's largest pork producer, Smithfield Foods. The Utah farm raises and markets about 1.2 million hogs per year and employs about 450 people.