FAIR OAKS — Authorities released the names Tuesday of three former employees of a large northwestern Indiana dairy farm who were charged with animal cruelty following the release of undercover video showing workers kicking and throwing calves.
The Newton County Sheriff's Office said officers were searching for the three suspects in the alleged animal abuse at Fair Oaks Farms. Video released last week by the animal rights group Animal Recovery Mission shows calves being thrown, kicked in the head, hit with steel rods and burnt with branding iron s by workers at the popular agritourism destination.
Police identified the three suspects Tuesday as 31-year-old Santiago Ruvalcaba Contreros, 36-year-old Edgar Gardozo Vazquez and 38-year-old Miguel Angel Navarro Serrano. Prosecutors had charged them Monday with misdemeanor beating of a vertebrate animal, and arrest warrants were issued for the men.
It's unclear whether the men have attorneys who could speak on their behalf.
Investigators said other "persons of interest" were being interviewed in the case. Many of the conversations in the video released by the Miami-based Animal Recovery Mission involved people speaking Spanish.
Sheriff Thomas VanVleet said Monday in a statement that "details of the investigation cannot be released at this time as this investigation is still active."
The Associated Press left a message Tuesday with the sheriff's office seeking additional details on its investigation into the alleged abuse at Fair Oaks Farms' dairies about 70 miles south of Chicago. Farm officials say the farm draws about 500,000 tourists a year.
Newton County Prosecutor Jeff Drinski said Monday that Fair Oaks Farms "has cooperated completely in our attempts to identify and interview all persons involved in the videos that we have all viewed over the past week."
The AP also left a message Tuesday with Fair Oaks Farms seeking comment.
Fair Oaks Farms founder Mike McCloskey said in a statement last week that four employees seen in the video had been fired and actions have been taken to prevent further abuse. A fifth person shown in the video was a third-party truck driver who was transporting calves, he said.
Fair Oaks Farms is the flagship farm for Fairlife, a national brand of higher protein, higher calcium and lower fat milk. Some retailers have also pulled Fairlife products from their shelves, including Chicago-area groceries Jewel-Osco and Strack & Van Til and Family Express, which operates convenience stores across Indiana.
On Friday, Fair Oaks Farms suspended its home delivery service of milk, cheese and other products for one week, in part to protect drivers it says are facing harassment over the video.
LAWMAKER: RECORDING POLITICALLY DRIVEN
Video exposing alleged animal abuse at a famous northwestern Indiana dairy farm is politically motivated, said a state lawmaker who drafted legislation in 2013 that would have barred undercover video filming at the state's agricultural operations.
State Sen. Travis Holdman said it's too soon to say whether he'll refile the bill during the 2020 legislative session, The (Northwest Indiana) Times reported.
"Seeing as this is just a one-time incident that we're aware of, I don't think we need a knee-jerk reaction to do something legislatively necessarily," Holdman said. "I'm sure I'll be hearing from Farm Bureau folks about the incident and what they think needs to be done, if anything."
Holdman's bill would have made it a misdemeanor crime to snapshot or video record any agricultural or industrial activities without the property owner's written authorization. Legislators in at least 10 other states tried passing similar "ag-gag" laws, in part to discourage covert revelations of agricultural operations. But courts subsequently struck down several of those statutes as unconstitutional.
Holdman noted he has watched the Fair Oaks video and it's clearly politically driven because anyone who is concerned about animals would have attempted to halt the abuse.
"People who own farm animals want to take care of farm animals because they produce, and do what they need to do to be profitable, if you take care of those animals," Holdman said. "If you hire people that abuse them, they deserve to be fired."
He also criticized customers and businesses boycotting Fair Oaks dairy products after "an isolated incident."
"That doesn't solve the problem," Holdman said. "You just put people out of work when you do that."