Animal rights group demands criminal charges in wake of its undercover investigation

Fellsmere farm 1.JPG
Farm in Fellsmere accused of being illegal slaughterhouse by Animal Recovery Mission. (WPEC)

A South Florida animal rights group is demanding to know why workers at a local farm it’s accusing of being an illegal slaughterhouse operation aren't being prosecuted.

That’s why CBS12 News went straight to Indian River County Sheriff Deryl Loar for answers.

Just one day after the Animal Recovery Mission (ARM) went public with the results of its undercover investigation, Sheriff Loar says his investigators worked with the Indian River County State Attorney’s Office and in the end found no probable cause to file any criminal charges.

Loar says based on the information from the State Attorney’s office, the probable cause for the now-deceased owner of the farm, William “Billy” Lathero,” didn’t exist before he died.

When CBS12 News asked Loar about the accusations from the animal rights group, Animal Recovery Mission or ARM, he said, “If there's any appearance that this was not a thorough investigation, that's incorrect.”

ARM began its investigation in June 2018 at a farm known as “Black Cloud” along County Road 507.

ARM investigators say their video shows “extreme abuse and inhumane treatment” by two men they say are farm employees.

The video shows the men dragging goats to slaughter, some of them even being skinned alive. One goat, they say, suffered for 10 minutes until the animal took its final breath.

“They were never stunned,” says Richard Couto, the lead ARM investigator. “A sharp blade and hurt their body and that's how they were killed and that's illegal in the United States, not just in Florida.”

The Sky Team 12 Drone flew high over the farm on Tuesday and found at least two pigs on the property, although Loar issued a statement saying all of the animals were gone.

He clarified that on Wednesday.

“We have been told that the Black Cloud Ranch has shut down although,” Loar said. “The brother lives behind the property and those pigs were apparently out and about, so to speak.”

Couto contends the illegal slaughtering continues to go on.

“This farm is certainly not closed,” he said. “They are up and running and doing business as usual.”

Couto knows who one of the two men are in the video, although Loar says they haven’t been identified and they could face charges.

“We have probably the worst crimes committed to animals in the history of Indian River County,” he said. “This is one of the more violent animal cruelty cases in the United States in 2019.”

Couto says for ARM, this case is far from over.

If anyone knows the identity of the two men depicted on the video, please contact Deputy Luke Keppel at 772-978-6861. If identified, the case could be reopened for potential charges.