Detectives to scan 350 hours of video on animal abuse

OKEECHOBEE — Apprehension of three dairy workers accused of cruelty to animals was hampered by the timing of the Animal Recovery Mission (ARM) videos, which were posted online before the alleged crimes were reported to the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office, according to statements given by Sheriff Noel Stephen on Monday.

Sheriff Stephen gave an update in regards to the Larson Dairy Inc., animal cruelty investigation on the front steps of the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO) Tuesday, Nov. 27, at 3 p.m.

The sheriff said, “Within two days, we obtained warrants for four individuals. We have only been able to locate one of those individuals on misdemeanor charges of kicking one of the cows. The other three individuals have absconded, more than likely out of the country, the way that it looks right now based on our investigations. We are still trying to obtain the locations of these individuals.”

“We utilize all our resources to identify these individuals, and if we find out for sure they have fled to avoid prosecution, we will seek warrants for that as well,” conveyed the sheriff.

“We did receive approximately 350 hours of footage from this undercover investigation reported to us by the source that obtained it. We are in the process of going through all that footage to see if there is any other information leading to any identifiers or any other crimes that have been committed,” continued Sheriff Stephen.

“The bad guys knew we were looking for them before we knew who the bad guys were,” said the sheriff. “That makes it very difficult for us, at best, to bring them to justice, where they need to be. The individuals from ARM and their investigator, that took the video, we had to subpoena them before they will come talk to us and give us their information, and that is scheduled to happen hopefully this Friday.”

He said the ARM agent does not face any charges for waiting many weeks to report the alleged abuse.

“I don’t believe there is any crime that we are aware of at this point,” the sheriff said. “It comes down to a moral issue, I think, more so than a criminal issue unfortunately. There are duties to report child abuse but unfortunately not animal abuse.”

Sheriff Stephen quelled any concerns regarding additional purported animal abuse when he answered, “the only information that’s been reported to OCSO as far as animal abuse has been the Larson Dairy investigation. It is my understanding that the Burnham Farm was reported to state officials the week before the Larson Dairy information was reported to law enforcement. Once again, everybody knew about the criminal investigation before the entity that is supposed to do the criminal investigation was notified.”

The sheriff said his department will continue their investigation of the case.

“We are going to continue our investigation. We’re gonna go minute through minute of this 350 hours of footage that we have been given and see if there is anything we can identify, anything more that we can do with this information,” he said. “I think it’s a discredit to myself and my agency in the way this was reported. We have got to have the assistance of these folks. We don’t condone this.

“I have been a law enforcement professional here for 30 years and it’s my duty and obligation to bring these individuals to justice, and we will do that.”

The Lake Okeechobee News is published every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday and now includes news from around the lake every Wednesday.

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