Sen. Rice: Idaho dairy abuse video was staged

Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, a co-sponsor of Idaho’s new “ag-gag” law making it a crime to secretly film animal abuse at Idaho’s agricultural facilities, says the incident that sparked the bill was staged by an animal-rights activist videographer.

Rice told KBOI 670′s Nate Shelman during a 7-minute interview Monday that the videographer, whose name is unknown, directed dairy employees to beat, stomp and sexually abuse cows in 2012 at Bettencourt Dairy near Murtaugh.

“The guy who was filming was telling him what he wanted to film and then they were doing what he wanted, not what was normally the course of behavior at the dairy,” said Rice, a lawyer.

“He’s conspiring with those other employees to abuse the dairyman’s animals and film it,” Rice added. “And then use that filming of it to try and destroy the dairyman who owns the cows.”

Mercy for Animals, the California animal rights group that distributed the film, told KBOI-TV that Rice’s statement is “completely false and insulting.” (Click here to view the 6-minute video).

Matt Rice, director of investigations for Mercy for Animals, told KBOI-TV, “Mercy for Animals turned over all our video to law enforcement. They launched their own investigation that resulted in criminal charges and convictions. Video footage doesn’t take sides.”

Mercy for Animals provided the video to police and dairy worker Jesus Garza was convicted of animal cruelty.

In a news release Tuesday, the group’s executive director, Nathan Runkle, said Rice is willing to “deceive voters in a desperate attempt to protect the deep pockets of the cruel dairy industry.”

Senate Bill 1337 is now subject to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU, animal rights groups and others seeking to strike down the law on constitutional grounds.

Under the new law, signed by Gov. Butch Otter Feb. 28, anyone who films or records on an agricultural operation without permission will face up to a year in jail.

Dan Popkey came to Idaho in 1984 to work as a police reporter. Since 1987, he has covered politics and has reported on 25 sessions of the Legislature. Dan has a bachelor's in political science from Santa Clara University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University. He was a Congressional Fellow of the American Political Science Association and a Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan. A former page in the U.S. House of Representatives, he graduated Capitol Page High School in 1976. In 2007, he led the Statesman’s coverage of the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news. In 2003, he won the Ted M. Natt First Amendment award from the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association for coverage of University Place, the University of Idaho’s troubled real estate development in Boise. Dan helped start the community reading project "Big Read." He has two children in college and lives on the Boise Bench with an old gray cat.

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Posted in Idaho Politics