Okeechobee County sheriff says delay in reporting abuse hindered arrests in animal cruelty case


OKEECHOBEE — The Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office has arrested one person on misdemeanor charges of animal cruelty in connection with the Animal Recovery Mission video from Larson Dairy #5.

The 49-year-old man was charged with one count of misdemeanor animal cruelty for kicking an animal.

Felony warrants have been issued for two adults and one juvenile. All three are accused of hitting an animal with rebar.

“This is an ongoing investigation,” said Sheriff Noel Stephen. “Detective Lt. Brad Stark has secured warrants for four individuals involved thus far. Unfortunately only one has been arrested. The other three individuals have fled to whereabouts unknown due to the lake of prompt reporting to law enforcement. At this time, ARM founder Richard Couto and his employee, who recorded and submitted the video, have been requested to submit to interviews at the sheriff’s office but have failed to do so. The delay in reporting and lack of cooperation is significantly hindering this investigation and has already allowed responsible individuals to avoid prosecution. It is my hope that this will change moving forward.”

According to statements on the ARM website, the undercover ARM investigator filmed incidents at the dairy in August and September. The Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office received the video on Nov. 9. With the assistance of Jacob Larson, the individuals committing abuse in the video were identified. Mr. Larson fired two of the employees and suspended two. One of the suspended employees then quit.

In a related matter, a video reportedly shot at Burnham Dairy was released by ARM on Nov. 15, alleging animal cruelty due to unsafe conditions at that dairy.

Dee Ann Miller with the Florida Department of Environmental Regulation stated that FDEP responded to a complaint about Burnham Dairy received Nov. 3, 2017. When FDEP inspectors visited the farm ten days later, they found the complaint issues had been addressed.

According to FDEP records, the complaint, filed by Richard Couto, president of Animal Recovery Mission, alleged that at Burnham Dairy Inc., 5431 N.E. 304th Street, Okeechobee there were:
• Deceased cows left decomposing in standing water and among living cows;
• Deceased cows left decomposing on property near moving water;
• Deceased cows left out in the open being eaten by predators (both flight and land animals); and,
• Ground water to public possibly affected by feces and decomposing bodies.

After receiving the complaint, FDEP investigators Greg Kennedy and Daryl Sibble contacted dairy owners Randy Burnham and Doug Burnham.

“Randy Burnham acknowledged that they have been struggling with mortality disposal at their facility due to complications related to Hurricane Irma and their contract rendering facility’s inability to pick up the bovine carcasses,” the report states.

“An on-site Complaint Investigation Inspection was conducted on Nov. 13, 2017. During this inspection, department staff, Greg Kennedy and Daryl Sibble inspected the 500-acre facility, including wastewater treatment and disposal system, free stall barns, groundwater monitoring wells, surface water discharge site and the mortality disposal area (burial site).

“No bovine carcasses were observed on any portion of the facility during the complaint investigation,” the FDEP report states.

“It was determined that Burnham Farms, Inc. properly disposed of all bovine carcasses at the facility, after being informed of the complaint. The facility is considering alternative methods for mortality disposal.

“No direct surface water connection from the production area or mortality disposal area were found during the inspection.”

FDEP considers the matter closed, according to the report.

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