No charges in alleged Butterball cruelty case

December 10, 2012 1:21:55 PM PST
District Attorney Ernie Lee said Monday that he does not intend to file animal cruelty charges against any Butterball employees after video of alleged turkey abuse was released by the group Mercy for Animals before Thanksgiving.

Lee is the chief prosecutor in the Fourth District, which oversees Onslow, Duplin, Jones, and Sampson counties.

"I have determined that there is insufficient evidence to proceed with any criminal charges," said Lee in a news release.

In November, Mercy for Animals said it had undercover video showing abuse at Butterball facilities in Sampson, Duplin, Onslow, and Lenoir counties over a period in October. It alleged the video showed workers kicking birds and picking them up and throwing them by their wings. The video included pictures of birds the group claimed were injured by rough treatment.

Similar video the group released last year it said it filmed at a Butterball plant in Hoke County did result in charges for some workers.

But this time, District Attorney Lee said no charges would be filed.

"After reviewing the video footage and documentary material, I do not believe that we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that acts of animal cruelty were committed by the employees depicted in the video based upon applicable North Carolina law," he said.

Meanwhile, Mercy for Animals released a statement which read, in part; "Mercy For Animals is disappointed that District Attorney Ernie Lee will not be filing criminal charges against the Butterball workers who were caught on video kicking and stomping on birds, dragging them by their fragile wings and necks, and maliciously throwing turkeys onto the ground or on top of other birds. North Carolina law clearly indicates that these acts are illegal and should be punished, and the District Attorney's decision not to uphold the law is extremely troubling."

The group is considering civil action against Butterball.

Butterball did not immediately react to the announcement. In a previous statement, it said it was aware of the allegations and it has a zero tolerance policy regarding abuse.

It said any employee who takes part in abuse - or fails to report it - will be fired.

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