Farm employee arrested on felony animal cruelty charges

By: By William R. Toler -

ROCKINGHAM — A Richmond County farm employee is facing felony animal cruelty charges, accused of “maliciously” killing four chickens.

According to arrest warrants, 22-year-old Danny Cajija Miranda killed two of the chickens by grinding his heel on their heads with his full weight, whipping one of them around by its neck first.

Warrants state a third chicken was killed by “hitting it in the head twice with a hammer,” and another “by flinging the chicken into a wall.”

Those chickens were the property of Perdue Farms, according to warrants.

According to court documents, Miranda is an employee of Deese Farms outside Rockingham, a contract grower for Perdue.

Owner Tommy Deese said Wednesday that he was still trying to get information on the incident.

“I’m in the dark right now,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going on.”

Deese is also on the Richmond Soil and Water District Board of Supervisors.

Vandhana Bala, of the Los Angeles-based animal rights activist group Mercy for Animals, filed a report with the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office at 2 p.m. Tuesday.

Deputies say the report was forwarded to Sgt. Bryan Beach, animal control supervisor, who immediately began working the investigation.

A video posted to Mercy for Animals’ YouTube channel just after 5 p.m. Wednesday appears to show several chickens being stomped on and one being flung against the wall inside a chicken house, as well as other chickens in poor health.

Using the title “Perdue Tortures Animals,” the video contrasts apparent “claims” from the poultry giant about the health and welfare of commercial flocks with alleged abuses.

“Unfortunately, the actions shown on the video go beyond the farm worker and includes inappropriate handling by contract catching crews and birds with leg and other health problems that should have been humanely euthanized much earlier,” Perdue spokeswoman Julie DeYoung told the Daily Journal in an email Wednesday afternoon. “Mistreatment or abuse of animals is never tolerated. Our independent contract growers share equal responsibility to provide care according to our best practices and standards.”

DeYoung said the contract with Deese Farms has been suspended while the company investigates the incident, adding that there are currently no chickens on the farm.

“We are appalled by the mistreatment and abuse by a contract catching crew and farm worker shown in the video,” Dr. Bruce Stewart-Brown, senior vice president of food safety, quality and live production for Perdue, said in a Wednesday statement. “We are deeply disturbed that birds with obvious leg or health issues were left to suffer. We are committed to working with law enforcement to identify everyone involved and hope that Mercy for Animals will cooperate to facilitate those efforts. We are committed to taking aggressive action to hold those involved accountable and prevent similar behavior in the future.”

Miranda, whose citizenship is listed as Mexican, is also accused of slapping a small dog “with white and brown spots.” Deputies said the assault was unprovoked.

He was arrested without incident around 5 p.m. Tuesday, charged with four felony counts and and one misdemeanor count of cruelty to animals and booked into the Richmond County Jail under a $10,000 secured bond. His court date is scheduled for Jan. 28.

Online records show Miranda has no other pending charges or past criminal convictions in North Carolina.

Bala said her organization will be holding press conferences in Charlotte and Raleigh on Thursday and did not want to discuss the group’s investigation before that time.

Mercy for Animals made headlines in 2011 when the group released a video of an undercover investigation showing turkey abuse at a Butterball facility in Raeford that led to the convictions of at least four employees. Another video was released last June from a Butterball hatchery in Raeford.

The organization’s website features undercover investigations of corporate beef, pork and poultry farms across the country and in Canada.

In June, state legislators passed a bill — overriding Gov. Pat McCrory’s veto — that establishes civil penalties for workers who blow the whistle on inhumane or unsafe conditions at North Carolina’s factory farms using video and audio recording and/or the copying or removal of records, data and documents in “the nonpublic areas of an employer’s premises.”

The new law directs courts to award exemplary damages of $5,000 a day “for each day, or portion thereof, that a defendant has acted in violation.”

Rep. Garland Pierce, D-Scotland, who also represents Richmond and Hoke counties, was one of 36 House members to vote against the veto override.

A message left with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services regional office in Charlotte was not returned in time for publication.

All defendants facing criminal charges are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.

William R. Toler can be reached by calling at 910-817-2675 or follow him on Twitter @William_r_toler.

By William R. Toler