In an odd outcome the Worcester County State’s Attorney, Joel Todd, essentially acquitted Perdue Farms of charges of animal cruelty that the company faced in Maryland.
The case began when Compassion Over Killing charged the chicken producer with animal cruelty. COK outreach coordinator Joshua Balk worked at a Perdue plant in Showell, Maryland, which has since been closed.
While an employee, Balk videotaped the processing line, and later turned that videotape over to prosecutors claiming that it showed animal abuse and the results of what COK believes is improper or non-existent training of workers.
Todd met with Worcester County Sheriff Chuck Martin, Compassion Over Killing general counsel Carter Dillard, and Balk. At that time, Todd expressed his view that the videotape did not show a crime. He told The Maryland Coast Dispatch,
We all met and reviewed the tapes together. I felt the evidence lacked merit, and there was no probable cause that Perdue Farms was guilty of any crime based on the information provided to me. They committed no crime.
But after viewing the tape for himself, Worcester County District Commissioner Earline Loomis decided that the evidence on the videotape did warrant prosecution of Perdue Farms for animal cruelty.
Under Maryland law, however, a state’s attorney can “confess a verdict of not guilty” which effectively pre-empts a trial and functions the same as a not guilty verdict in that the defendant cannot be retried on the charge. According to the Maryland Coast Dispatch, this is rarely used, but Todd invoked this power nonetheless to pre-empt the Perdue Farms trial and effectively acquit the company of the abuse charges.
The decision to do so certainly caught Compassion Over Killing by surprise. Dillard told The Maryland Coast Dispatch,
In essence, the state intervened and prevented Perdue from ever having to go to court and be put in the spotlight to face these charges. We are very disappointed that Mr. Todd chose this very unusual procedure.
. . .
It is odd that you can get an acquittal, without the defendant even having to appear in court. This cut out the availability of public input . . .
Compassion Over Killing campaign director Erica Neier add,
The bottom line is that this sends a message that in Worcester County, corporations, especially Perdue Farms, don’t have to abide by Maryland’s animal cruelty laws. So, companies can handle animals in any manner they see fit.
Todd acquits Perdue of all charges in cruelty case. Benjamin Mook, The Maryland Coast Dispatch, February 4, 2005.