RALEIGH, N.C. – Four former workers at a North Carolina testing lab have been indicted on felony animal cruelty charges, following an animal rights group's undercover investigation that captured video images of animals being hit, kicked and thrown, officials said Wednesday.
Gates County District Attorney Frank Parrish said Christine Clement and Tracy Small were indicted on two counts each of cruelty to animals, while Jessica Detty and Mary Ramsey were each indicted on five counts of the same charge. Parrish said the grand jury handed down the indictments Tuesday.
In North Carolina, the sentence for a person with no previous criminal record could range from as little as three months of community service to 14 months in prison.
The charges follow the September 2010 release of a videotape provided by an undercover worker for the group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
Detty said Wednesday that she was not aware of the indictment, nor had she heard from the other three defendants in the case. She told The Associated Press that she wouldn't mistreat animals.
"Wow. I don't see myself as a type of person to ever do something like that and I would not ever," said Detty, who said she was a receptionist at the lab for a year and a half. "If I were to go to court, I would surely have a lawyer to defend me that I was not in the wrong," Detty said.
Messages left for the other three workers were not immediately returned Wednesday.
PETA lab investigator Kathy Guillermo called it a groundbreaking case for animal rights.
She said it is the first case she is aware of in which research lab workers have been charged with animal cruelty.
"There are unspeakable things happening to animals in labs every day, but when you also strike them, kick them or withhold health care, it's animal cruelty,' Guillermo said.
The video shot by a PETA member working at the lab shows workers throwing a cat, pulling a dog's teeth with inadequate pain medication and trying to pull a cat's claws off by jerking it from a wire cage.
Professional Laboratory and Research Services Inc. was closed in late 2010 after the USDA received PETA's report and began to investigate the operation.
Guillermo said the lab was not affiliated with any specific company but would carry out testing for manufacturers of pet products, such as flea and tick medications.
More than 200 dogs and 50 cats were confiscated from the lab by the USDA following the investigation.
The lab's owner, Helen Sonenshine, of Virginia, did not return a call from a reporter Wednesday.
Connie Detty, the mother of Jessica Detty, said her daughter was an animal lover who often brought rabbits home from the lab to keep them from being euthanized.
Gates County is on the North Carolina-Virginia line, about 114 miles northeast of Raleigh.
Associated Press writer Emery Dalesio contributed to this report.