Two former slaughterhouse workers were charged with abusing ailing
cattle in a case based on undercover video footage showing crippled and sick
animals being shoved with forklifts.
Bench warrants for the arrest of Daniel Navarro and Luis Sanchez were issued after they failed to appear for arraignment. Prosecutors did not know if they had retained lawyers.
Authorities said Navarro and Sanchez were seen in the Humane Society video, which showed workers kicking, shocking and otherwise abusing "downer" animals that were apparently too sick or injured to walk into the slaughterhouse. Some animals had water forced down their throats, San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael Ramos said.
"The facts of this case are horrendous," Ramos said. "It makes your
stomach turn to see what they did to these cows."
Navarro and Sanchez were fired and their supervisor was suspended.
Navarro, 49, was charged with five felony counts of animal cruelty and three misdemeanors. Sanchez, 32, was charged with three misdemeanor counts. The misdemeanors allege illegal movement of a nonambulatory animal.
Navarro, of Pomona, would face up to eight years in prison if convicted; Sanchez, of Chino, would face up to three years.
The slaughterhouse in Chino is operated by Westland/Hallmark Meat Co., which supplies meat to the federal school lunch program and to major hamburger chains. The U.S. Department of Agriculture suspended operations at Westland/Hallmark after the video surfaced earlier this year, and lawmakers in Washington called Thursday for an investigation.
Federal regulations call for keeping downed cattle out of the food supply because they may pose a higher risk of E. coli, salmonella contamination or mad cow disease because they typically wallow in feces and their immune systems are often weak.
USDA officials have put a hold on meat products from the Westland/Hallmark facility until Tuesday, though investigations have found no evidence that meat from disabled animals has entered the food supply.
Westland President Steve Mendell said in a letter posted on the company's Web site that he was "shocked and horrified" by the video.
The USDA inspector general is looking into Westland's procedures and could turn over information to the Justice Department for criminal charges, though no charges have been filed against the company or its management.
The district attorney said prosecutors would have to show management had knowledge of the activities and that had not been determined.
The video was shot by a person working undercover for The Humane Society of the United States.
Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive of The Humane Society, said he couldn't estimate how many animals were mistreated at the plant. Regardless, the case should be a wake-up call to the government to do better monitoring; a USDA inspector was only at the plant for about two hours each day, he said.