ADELANTO, Calif. – A former slaughterhouse worker who was videotaped abusing ailing cattle in a case that led to the largest beef recall in U.S. history said in a jailhouse interview that he was only following orders.
Luis Sanchez said he felt bad when he saw how the cows were treated at Chino-based Westland/Hallmark Meat Co., and insisted his boss taught him to use a forklift to move so-called downer cows along the slaughter line.
"That's how I was taught. He taught me to do the work. I didn't know it was a serious crime," Sanchez told the San Bernardino Sun in an interview published Friday.
Sanchez, an illegal immigrant from Mexico, was being held at the Adelanto Detention Center on immigration charges. He was charged with animal cruelty in the slaughterhouse case, but he also faced charges in two unrelated drug cases.
Sanchez's ex-boss, Daniel Ugarte Navarro, 49, has pleaded not guilty to five felony counts of animal abuse and three misdemeanor counts of illegal movement of a non-ambulatory animal. The counts carry a maximum prison sentence of 5 years, 8 months, prosecutors have said.
Navarro will be assigned an attorney by the county public defender's office at his March 24 arraignment.
Last month, the Agriculture Department issued the recall after the Humane Society of the United States released undercover video of workers forcing sick and crippled cows to stand with electric prods and forklifts.
Sanchez appeared in the video using an electric prod.
Sanchez said he learned the company was handling the cows differently than other slaughterhouses from truck drivers who brought the animals to the plant. He said his supervisor told the workers to use care when federal inspectors were around.
Sanchez, who first came to the slaughterhouse about 10 years ago, said he doesn't understand why he's in jail.
"I think it's unjust that I'm here. Where are the people in charge?" he told the newspaper.