DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A year after dropping charges against an activist who exposed what many viewed as the inhumane killing of hundreds of pigs at two Iowa pork plants, prosecutors have dropped a second case against him.
The dismissal of the second case against Matt Johnson, an activist with the group Direct Action Everywhere, comes in the continued fight over Iowa's so-called “ag gag” laws that criminalize undercover investigations into animal treatment on livestock farms.
Johnson had been scheduled to stand trial Thursday in Wright County, Iowa, on counts of burglary, electronic eavesdropping and food operation trespass at Iowa Select Farms properties. A judge dismissed the case Wednesday at the request of county prosecutors, the Des Moines Register reported.
Prosecutors have not said why they dropped the case, but Iowa Select Farms spokeswoman Jen Sorenson said the company was told it was dismissed due to evidentiary issues.
However, Sorenson said, the judge did reject Johnson’s motion to dismiss the food operation trespass charge, citing a federal appeals court ruling that upheld the ag gag law. Johnson had argued in the motion that the law criminalizes free speech and journalistic investigations in violation of the First Amendment.
“Even assuming investigative journalism required the ability to trespass in order to record videos of alleged unethical treatment of animals, such a requirement is not sufficient to effectively make any food animal operation in Iowa a public place,” Judge Derek Johnson wrote.
Last January, Grundy County prosecutors dropped two counts of trespassing against Johnson at the request of Iowa Select after company executives and employees were subpoenaed to testify.
The charges came after Johnson and others, acting on a tip, secretly placed cameras inside Iowa Select Farms hog confinements and captured the company euthanizing hundreds of the animals using a method called ventilation shutdown, which involves stopping airflow inside a facility to raise the temperature high enough to kill the animals inside.
American Veterinary Medical Association guidelines say the method should be a last resort after others are ruled out, that it should be done quickly enough to kill 95% of the animals within an hour, and that all must be eventually killed.
But Johnson captured audio of pigs shrieking, some for hours, as the temperature rose. The video also showed workers hours later walking through the pile of animals and shooting those showing signs of life with a bolt gun.
The incident came months into the COVID-19 pandemic, when some producers said they had no choice but to euthanize hogs after virus outbreaks at meatpacking plants led to closures and production slowdowns. They said they had no markets to sell them and ran out of space to house them.