Dairy workers sentenced on animal cruelty charges

OKEECHOBEE — On April 11, an Okeechobee County judge withheld adjudication on dairy employees alleged to have committed animal cruelty and sentenced them to 12 months of supervised probation, 20 days in jail which may be served on the weekend work program, 72 hours of community service at an animal shelter, along with $370 in court costs and fees.

Fernando Lopez-Cruz, 45

On Wednesday, April 11, 19th Judicial Circuit County Judge, Jerald D. Bryant began the criminal case proceeding regarding two men who allegedly committed animal cruelty at McArthur Dairy in December 2017.

Fernando Lopez-Cruz, 45, and Naul Dorantes-Garcia, 36, each faced a first degree misdemeanor charge of committing animal cruelty while employed by McArthur Dairy.

Both had entered open pleas of no contest. In an open plea, the defendant pleads without any sentencing assurances.

Naul Dorantes-Garcia, 36

Assistant State Attorney Ashley Albright’s first witness called was Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO) Detective Lieutenant Brad Stark.

“Mr. Richard Couto from ARM (Animal Recovery Mission) produced the video approximately over a three-month time frame regarding four dairies. PVC pipes were used to herd the cattle and the video shows the PVC pipes being thrust into the body of the cows,” Lt. Stark said.

He said other McArthur Dairy employees helped identify the subjects in the video.

Det. Lt. Stark said both Lopez-Cruz and Dorantes-Garcia were cooperative during law enforcement’s investigation, admitted to improper use of the PVC herding pipe and were remorseful for their actions upon seeing the video in the presence of law enforcement.

Richard Couto, founder, chief executive director and lead investigator of ARM, also testified that his investigators’ investigation was on the premise of getting an education on the dairy industry. He said they, “came into Okeechobee to see the behind-closed-doors of the dairy industry in the state.”

He said the undercover investigators were employed at McArthur Dairy during the operation.

Mr. Couto claimed the investigators were provoked and encouraged by other employees to strike the cows during herding.

“Due to the length of time of daily abuse, we are asking for the maximum sentence,” he said.

“Do you think this is a learning instance for the dairy industry?” defense attorney Thomas Colter asked Mr. Couto.

“I hope so,” Mr. Couto replied.

Both Lopez-Cruz and Dorantes-Garcia acknowledged their wrong doings.

Mr. Albright asked each man, “What do you feel you did wrong?”

Both replied that they should not have hit the cows with the pipe.

“There is no plea offer and there has been a huge public outcry for their actions,” said Mr. Albright. “I believe some jail time would be appropriate.”

“This instance gives the dairies an opportunity to better train their employees,” said Mr. Colter. He said “the learning opportunity can better be served with probation than incarceration.”

“I think changes are being made because of what was done,” said Judge Bryant. “There was no excuse for that,” referencing the manner in which the PVC pipes were utilized.

“I am not downplaying the seriousness of the case but I do believe in second chances and these are two men who have accepted the responsibility of their actions, were cooperative with law enforcement and had no previous criminal history,” said the judge.

Judge Bryant sentenced each defendant to 12 months of supervised probation, 20 days in jail which may be served on the weekend work program, 72 hours of community service at an animal shelter, along with $370 in court costs and fees.

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