LEWISBURG, W.Va. – Three former turkey farm workers who were videotaped stomping on birds' heads and wringing their necks have been indicted on 19 counts of animal abuse, 11 of them felony charges that could carry significant jail time.
Norfolk, Va.-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which had an undercover operative film the abuse last fall at Aviagen Turkeys Inc. in Lewisburg, said Thursday it believes the felony counts are the most severe such charges that U.S. factory farmers have faced. Farmworkers have in the past been charged with misdemeanor abuse.
PETA's undercover worker also filmed people slamming turkeys into metal cages and bragging about previous abuse.
Click here to watch the video. (WARNING: EXTREMELY GRAPHIC).
Indicted this week were: 25-year-old Walter Lee Hambrick of Fairlea; 33-year-old Scott Alvin White of Second Creek; and 21-year-old Edward Eric Gwinn of Crawley. The prosecutor's office said they will be arraigned Feb. 17 in Greenbrier County Circuit Court.
Each felony charge is punishable by up to five years in jail and up to a $5,000 fine. The misdemeanor charges carry possible sentences of six months and up to $2,000 in fines.
The Greenbrier County public defender's office said it has not yet been appointed to represent any of the men, and telepone listings for the three couldn't be found.
Aviagen Turkeys Inc., a subsidiary of Alabama-based Aviagen Inc., fired all three workers in November and did not immediately comment on the indictments. When the video was released, however, the company condemned the workers' actions and promised swift action.
A spokeswoman for the National Turkey Federation in Washington, D.C., was out of the office Thursday and could not immediately be reached for comment.
While praising the State Police and prosecutors for taking the case seriously, PETA President Ingrid E. Newkirk also encouraged Americans to find vegetarian substitutes for their protein.
"If anyone at home wants to guarantee that they won't support such cruelty," she said in a prepared statement, "they should leave turkey off the grocery list and try some vegetarian recipes."
In 2004, PETA carried out a similar undercover video sting in West Virginia against Texas-based Pilgrim's Pride at the company's Moorefield plant. The company fired 11 employees, but none were criminally charged.