Seven people were sentenced in animal cruelty cases in Virginia after an undercover animal rights activist filmed them abusing chickens at Tyson factory facilities, prosecutors said Tuesday.
Last year, the animal rights group Compassion Over Killing, based in Washington state, released video taken at four Virginia facilities where employees could be seen throwing, punching and kicking chickens.
Two of the facilities in the video are in Mecklenburg County, one is in Buckingham County and one is in Lunenburg County.
In June, three Tyson workers were sentenced after two of them were convicted and one pleaded guilty to charges related to the abuse.
On Tuesday, prosecutors said seven more were sentenced.
In Mecklenburg Circuit Court, four people pleaded guilty to animal cruelty charges: Samuel Downs, 42, of Crewe, Va.; Tyrone Delaney, 44, of Amelia, Va.; Robin Bowen, 61, of Crewe; and Jacob Sorrell, 21, of Redford, N.Y.
All received suspended sentences under the condition that they not work with animals for at least one year.
In addition, William Atkins, 43, of Rice, Va., pleaded no contest to animal cruelty charges in Mecklenburg Circuit Court and Buckingham Circuit Court; Judy Atkins, 62, of Rice pleaded “facts sufficient to convict” in Buckingham Circuit Court; and Trent Johnson, 56, of Drakes Branch, Va., pleaded no contest to animal cruelty charges in Buckingham Circuit Court.
All received suspended sentences. William Atkins and Judy Atkins cannot work with animals for one year, and Johnson cannot supervise any chicken production crew for two years.
After the video was released last year, Tyson denounced the behavior and fired 10 employees involved.
“I’m disgusted and outraged by what’s shown in this video,” Christine Daugherty, vice president of sustainable food production for Tyson Foods, said in a statement last year.
“We do not tolerate animal abuse. . . . The people shown in the video by Compassion Over Killing were all trained in proper animal handling, yet chose to ignore it and failed to alert management about the despicable treatment on these farms.”
“These convictions send a clear, strong signal across the Commonwealth that my team and I take these crimes seriously, and that those who commit cruelty to animals will be held accountable for their actions,” Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D) said in a statement. “Mistreatment of animals is both inhumane and illegal, and I’m glad to see the perpetrators of these crimes brought to justice.”
Erica Meier, Compassion Over Killing’s executive director, said that the activist who filmed the abuse became a witness for the prosecution and that the video reveals the “hidden horrors” of chicken farming.
“In the end, the most effective way we can each make a difference for these animals is to choose to not eat them,” she said.