Swanville farmer accused of neglecting, stabbing pigs loses bid to suppress evidence

Fri, 05/24/2019 - 11:30am

    BELFAST — A Swanville farmer charged with 12 counts of animal cruelty lost a bid to suppress evidence gained by authorities following a March 28 raid on his property by law enforcement agents with the Maine Department of Agriculture.

    Jerry Ireland, the owner of Ireland Farms on Nickerson Road in Swanville, is accused of mistreating the 13 pigs that were in his care up until he slaughtered 12 of 13 pigs March 27, the day before DOA officers were due to inspect the property.

    Ireland is accused of slaughtering all but one of his 13 pigs and was in the process of burying them with a backhoe when agents entered the property. The lone surviving pig was described as emaciated, with hip bones visible with the naked eye, and was seized by agents. Five bodies that also reportedly showed signs of maltreatment were also confiscated from the property.

    While the incident occurred March 27, Ireland was not formally charged until May 7, when he was charged with 13 counts of criminal cruelty to animals. He was indicted on all counts May 24. 

    Counts 1-12 are related to the deaths of 12 of the pigs, more than one of which was also found to have been stabbed in addition to being shot. In those 12 instances, it is alleged Ireland, “Did intentionally, knowingly or recklessly kill or attempt to kill an animal by a method that did not cause instantaneous death.”

    The 13th count relates to the lone surviving pig, who was found to be emaciated and, this charge states that Ireland, “being the owner or possessor of an animal, did intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly deprive an animal of necessary sustenance, necessary medical attention, proper shelter, protection from the weather, or humanely clean conditions.”

    A motion to suppress the evidence seized at the home was filed by Ireland’s attorneys July 5, based on violations under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. 

    A number of potential issues were raised in the motion, including claims that the search warrant affidavit failed to make a showing of probable cause that a crime would be found on Ireland’s property, among several others related to the search warrant and the evidence gained from its execution.

    Many of the facts involved in the case were laid out in the State’s Memorandum In Opposition to Defendant’s Motion to Suppress, which was received by Waldo County Unified Court Nov. 19, including how agents became involved in the Ireland Farm to begin with. The document was filed by Assistant District Attorney William B. Entwistle. 

    According to the document, a District Humane Agent with the Animal Welfare Program in the Department of Agriculture had visited the farm Nov. 16, 2017, after a neighbor complained that cows had been loose from the Ireland farm for two weeks. This led Agent Rae-Ann Demos, along with Animal Control Officer Heidi Blood, to travel to the property where they reportedly saw several pigs, two cows, and a dog, though she was unable to see food or water for the pigs.

    Agent Demos returned to the property with State Veterinarian Rachel Fisk Dec. 1, 2017, where they met with ACO Blood. 

    “Mr. Ireland was present, and expressed displeasure with what he considered ‘harassment’ by ACO Blood. The officers observed “’filthy living conditions for the pigs’ and gave instructions for proper shelter and suggestions for proper feeding of the pigs,” according to the motion. 

    Another complaint about Ireland neglecting his pigs was made January 12, 2018, when a neighbor called to report that no one had been to the farm to care for the pigs since a snowstorm occurred roughly a week prior, which was evidenced by a failure to plow the road into their shelter. Ireland reportedly arrived to plow the road a short time after ACO Blood traveled to the property to confirm it had not been plowed. 

    On February 23, Agent Demos traveled to Ireland Farm with Animal Welfare Director Liam Hughes to check on the status of the animals. Ireland was not home, and failed to respond to a notice that was left requesting he contact Agent Demos. 

    Yet another complaint came in about the farm March 11, 2018, with a neighbor reporting they had seen no evidence anyone had been to the property to care for the animals in more than a week. Another report was received March 16, 2018, saying it had now been two weeks since anyone had visited the farm to care for the animals. 

    Animal Control Officer Blood traveled to the property the following day and could not see any sign of food or water. No one was at the farm at the time and a notice was left for Mr. Ireland to call. Agent Demos returned to the property several days later with ACO Blood, where they again found no one present. Another notice was left, requesting Ireland call within 24 hours. The motion notes no call was ever received.

    On March 23, a representative of the Department of Agriculture, Caldwell Jackson, scheduled a meeting with Ireland to occur on March 28. 

    It is noted in the motion that there was no activity at the Ireland Farm from the morning of March 23, 2018, through 6 p.m. March 25, 2018. A few days later ACO Blood went to the property and issued Ireland a summons for failure to license his dog. Blood reportedly requested to see the animals, which Ireland declined. 

    It was on March 27, 2018, that ACO Blood reported that she was at a neighbor’s property and was “observing shots being fired at the pigs on the Ireland property, that a backhoe was digging a large hole, that she could see one pig hanging from the bucket of a backhoe.” 

    In the State’s Memorandum In Opposition To Defendant’s Motion to Suppress, Assistant District Attorney William Entwistle argued against the issues taken by Ireland’s defense attorney with regard to the search warrant. Their response read in part:

    “The evidence contained in the affidavit described animal cruelty occurring on the Ireland Farm, by failing to be present to feed and water the pigs for extended periods of time on at least two occasions. The location to be searched was sufficiently described, as was the evidence to be seized. The officers were acting reasonably in reliance on the warrant.

    “The executing officers had no difficulty identifying and recovering the lone live pig on the property, which had no food or water, and was significantly underfed based on its body condition score. The officers were able to locate carcasses of 12 pigs that had been freshly buried in two sites on the property. Of these twelve, five were seized, which were observed to be thin and underfed. Agent Demos described being able to see spinous process (hip bones) protruding, as indicative of being underfed. She also described seeing stab wounds on more than one of the carcasses, as well as a gunshot wound on at least one.

    “The affidavit contains evidence of failure to provide adequate care for the pigs, including extended periods when no one came to the property to provide food and water, as well as concern over the particular diet being provided. The affidavit also contains observation of Mr. Ireland shooting the pigs, one day before a scheduled meeting on the property which would have given Agent Demos and others an opportunity to have a first-hand look at the condition of the animals. The agents were within the scope of the warrant when they seized the live, emaciated, pig, as well as five carcasses that had been recently buried and which all appeared to have been cruelly treated.”

    Ireland’s lawyer, Hunter J. Tzovarras, of Bangor, filed a Memorandum In Support of Motion To Suppress with the court Dec. 6, where he again laid out his reasons for seeking suppression. 

    The memorandum read in part that “The Court suppress the search of Ireland Farm because (1) the search warrant affidavit failed to establish probable cause for the address and location to be searched, (2) the search was executed at an address different than that issued in the warrant, (3) the search warrant affidavit failed to establish probable cause that evidence of a crime would be found at the Ireland Farm, (4) the search warrant failed to describe with particularity the items to be seized, and (5) the agents lacked good faith in relying on a defective warrant.”

    Justice Robert Murray issued an Order Denying Motion To Supress April 25, where he went over each of Esquire Tzovarras’ issues with the search warrant. 

    The decision read in part:

    “...this court concludes that the totality of the circumstances establishes the finding of probable cause necessary to support the issuance of a search warrant to seize the defendant’s property where the evidence in this case was ultimately seized, namely, “any live, dead or unborn animals...that are being or have been deprived of necessary sustenance, proper shelter, and humanely clean conditions,” or “evidence of the crime of animal cruelty,” as described in the affidavit and search warrant, was sufficiently particular, and, in fact, matched the property which was actually seized in this case.”

    Ireland’s next date in Waldo County Unified Criminal Court is June 11, at 1 p.m.

    Erica Thoms can be reached at news@penbaypilot.com