Woman Prosecuted For Filming Slaughterhouse From The Road In Utah; Public Backlash Leads To Quick Reversal

from the ag-gag-gagged dept

We’ve written a few times now about so-called ag gag laws that have been pushed by lobbyists for the farm industry for years now. The bills are pretty ridiculous, often making it illegal to videotape or photograph an agricultural operation. While many people talked about how ridiculous the prosecutions would be under those bills, supporters insisted that the bills were really only for cases where activists were doing something really egregious. In Utah, which has one of these bills, during the debate over the bill, the Utah Sentencing Commission warned that it could be used against anyone who merely photographed a farm. In response, Rep. Greg Hughes said: “Who would really pursue that in terms of prosecution?” Well, now we have an answer: the local prosecutor in Draper, Utah (which, coincidentally, appears to be the district Rep. Hughes represents.

As pointed out by Mike Eber, a woman named Amy Meyer used her mobile phone camera to video tape what was happening at the Dale Smith Meatpacking Company, which she could see from the street. Dale Smith, it should be noted, also happens to be the mayor of Draper. Another coincidence, I’m sure.


When the slaughterhouse manager came outside and told her to stop, she replied that she was on the public easement and had the right to film. When police arrived, she said told them the same thing. According to the police report, the manager said she was trespassing and crossed over the barbed-wire fence, but the officer noted “there was no damage to the fence in my observation.”

Meyer was allowed to leave. She later found out she was being prosecuted under the state’s new “ag-gag” law.
This is the first prosecution in the country under one of these laws, which are designed to silence undercover investigators who expose animal welfare abuses on factory farms. The legislation is a direct response to a series of shocking investigations by groups like the Humane Society, Mercy for Animals, and Compassion Over Killing that have led to plant closures, public outrage, and criminal charges against workers.

Of course, as soon as this story started getting publicity, prosecutors suddenly decided that perhaps this wasn’t a case to take a stand on and quickly dropped the charges. Of course, the law is still on the books (as are similar laws in a number of other states) and it’s entirely possible similar cases may pop up elsewhere, when there’s less publicity and press coverage.

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Comments on “Woman Prosecuted For Filming Slaughterhouse From The Road In Utah; Public Backlash Leads To Quick Reversal”

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42 Comments
Ninjasays:

Wow, ppl aren’t giving Ms Streisand a rest these days, no?

supporters insisted that the bills were really only for cases where activists were doing something really egregious

What would be considered egregious? Filming an agricultural activity from afar? And even if the person somewhat trespass the property limits aren’t there laws to deal with that already? What if I use telescopic lens to take pictures from afar?

I know the Constitution means shit to most politicians nowadays but couldn’t this law be challenged on Constitutional grounds?

Anonymoussays:

Re:

“couldn’t this law be challenged on Constitutional grounds?”

I’m sure it could. But not by this woman, since the charges were dropped. And according to the article, that was the first prosecution in the country under one of those laws. So it might be tricky finding someone with standing to sue.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Re:

Well, it might be possible to show standing if you can prove that the law is actively preventing you from doing something. But it’s more difficult. You can’t just say that the law prevented you from taping last week, because last week is already gone, and striking down the law won’t change that. You can’t just say that the law is preventing you from taping NEXT week, because by the time the lawsuit gets looked at, next week will also be in the past. You’d really need to find the right plaintiff, probably one that would want to make these tapes on an ongoing basis.

btr1701says:

Re:

I can agree with prosecuting someone for
trespassing on private land, but that doesn’t
mean you can stop someone from making speech
or recording it.

Actually, it does. I can make whatever rules I like for my own property. If I don’t want people recording while there, I can legally do that. You don’t have any constitutional right to film or speak or whatever on someone else’s private property. (Try attending a taping of the TONIGHT SHOW or JIMMY KIMMEL or any other kind of show with a studio audience. Not only do they prohibit recordings, they run you through metal detectors and take your phones/cameras away from you and secure them until the show is over and you leave. You don’t like it? You’re free to not attend the show.)

The reason this case is different– and why the charges were dropped– is because this woman wasn’t on private property when she was filming. She was on the public road, which makes all the difference in the world from a legal perspective.

John Fendersonsays:

Re: Re:

If I don’t want people recording while there, I can legally do that.

Only indirectly. If someone violates your rules, you don’t have the right, for example, to confiscate their recording.

You cannot make a rule that has the force of law that says “no recording”. However, you can tell the person to leave if they’re breaking your house rules. If they refuse to do so, then they’re trespassing and can be prosecuted for that.

Jessesays:

Re: Re:

Right but if you are on private property and you break rules that you have been informed of, you are trespassing. The speech itself is not the crime, it’s the trespassing. That’s the difference.

It doesn’t actually give police the ability to arrest you for filming, only for trespassing (by breaking the rules by filming).

Maybe you could make some corporate spying or wiretapping laws work?

Larrysays:

sue Google

Here’s an illegal picture. More sure to be found on Google street views:
https://maps.google.com/maps?q=Dale+Smith+Meatpacking+Company,+draper+ut&hl=en&ll=40.524744,-111.891847&spn=0.00517,0.009366&sll=40.677514,-73.979187&sspn=0.656138,1.198883&hq=Dale+Smith+Meatpacking+Company,&hnear=Draper,+Salt+Lake,+Utah&t=h&z=17&layer=c&cbll=40.524645,-111.891831&panoid=D9dgQ7GT8MFBhaM2PA6dUA&cbp=12,255.55,,0,0

Applesaucesays:

Secret arrest needed to avoid backlash

We see here the obvious solution to the public backlash issue: publicity. If only it were possible to keep the arrest secret (perhaps by classifying photography as a terrorist activity), then this reversal of the arrest would not have happened.

Perhaps some will learn a lesson from this. What lesson? Who will learn? Left as an exercise for the reader.

Anonymoussays:

It’s amazing how prosecutors abuse their prosecutorial discretion to go after mostly poor and defenseless defendants breaking victimless laws that threaten big giant business entities but that big corporations and monopolists (that often benefit from govt granted monopoly power) and the government can basically do whatever they want with little fear of being prosecuted by the govt.

Something needs to change. I do not want the govt prosecuting every joe blow because they did something as harmless as infringe copy’right’ and this hurts the bottom line of big corporations. I want the government to criminally prosecute those at Bayer responsible for knowingly delivering aids tainted blood to others and I want these criminals to go to jail for a long time.

(Youtube search Bayer Aids Tained Blood since the link gets moderated)

Anonymoussays:

It’s amazing how prosecutors abuse their prosecutorial discretion to go after mostly poor and defenseless defendants breaking victimless laws that threaten big giant business entities but that big corporations and monopolists (that often benefit from govt granted monopoly power) and the government can basically do whatever they want with little fear of being prosecuted by the govt.

Something needs to change. I do not want the govt prosecuting every joe blow because they did something as harmless as infringe copy’right’ and this hurts the bottom line of big corporations. I want the government to criminally prosecute those at Bayer responsible for knowingly delivering A i d s (sorry, moderation problems) tainted blood to others and I want these criminals to go to jail for a long time.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4absF7ykstc

Greggoresays:

No more fvcking laws!

All laws restricting media capture outside of Military installations and private places (ie bathrooms and changing rooms) need to be removed from the books. We have way to many laws in this world and most should be erased!

Imagine bringing someone from 1970 into this world, how many laws would they break in the first week…? How about someone from 1930 and how many laws would they break in the first day…. how about someone from 1890? how many laws would they break in the first hour? Now we couldn’t even think about any one before 1830 could we?

We have to many laws and the lawyers and politicians have run away with law making for their own purposes (and often for businesses agendas). Go back to the 6/10ths of the 10 commandments and and a few of our major laws and start from there. I would hate to think how restrictive my life will be in my old age.

Anonymoussays:

Re: No more fvcking laws!

More importantly, most current laws restricting media distribution should be abolished. This includes govt. established cableco and broadcasting monopolies. Now, I’m not saying that there should be no laws regulating these distribution channels but the current laws are a government restriction on free speech and should be abolished.

All govt established broadcasting and cableco monopolies for commercial use or into the hands of private entities should be abolished. No one should have a govt established commercial advantage and no private entity should have a govt established media advantage. These are unconstitutional being that when the govt sets up media gateways the govt is effectively limiting and influencing (the distribution of) speech based on the discretion of those receiving these monopoly privileges. The govt has no business limiting and influencing speech and such is an unconstitutional abrogation of my rights.

Anonymoussays:

Re: No more fvcking laws!

I will at the first sight of this deregulation put up 10 permanent cameras outside your house just for fun, deal?

What has happened with the wild lawgasms lawyers have gotten since 1970 or worse, the last 10 years is another matter though and there is a very good point there! There is a desperate need for deregulation on some areas and yes, many of the new laws today are a result from lobbyism and politicians protecting their “home-state interests”.

The Secret Agent

There’s an article in this month’s Harper’s Magazine (Ted Conover, “The Way of All Flesh: Undercover in an Industrial Slaughterhouse”, Harpers, May 2013, pp.31-49), about conditions in a meat-packing plant. Mr Conover got a job as a federal meat inspector. The federal civil service system is extremely fair, much more so than any private employment system. There is no such thing as “over-qualified” in the federal system (). If you are an American citizen, have a clean police record, one or more good college degrees, the ability to ace standardized tests without difficulty, and the willingness to ship out to wherever there is an opening, even if it is in a small town a couple of thousand miles away, in short, if you are an exemplary applicant, you can basically have a commonplace job such as mail carrier or meat inspector for the asking. Since Conover is Distinguished Writer in Residence at NYU’s Journalism school, and has written several books, he qualifies, obviously. Equally obviously, the USDA doesn’t have to ask nicely about putting meat inspectors into a meat-packing plant, and it’s none of the meat-packing company’s damm business if one of the meat inspectors seems to be a sometime college professor. Most of the meat inspectors are former plant workers, who went to night school to qualify for a better federal job.

Here is the USDA job sheet:

http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Careers/How_to_Apply_Food_Inspector/index.asp
https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/318165500

() One time, I was eating in McDonald’s, and two people from the head office were conducting employment interviews for a manager position in the next booth, which gives you an idea how McDonald’s operates. At any rate, they interviewed a candidate who was an engineering student, and then, after he had left, decided against him, on the grounds that they could not see why someone like that would want to work for them– they didn’t want someone who would quit the day he got his degree. They wanted someone who would be their slave.

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