LAS CRUCES — The video of a longtime Roswell slaughterhouse employee fatally shooting a horse in the head after swearing at “animal activists” has sparked a state Livestock Board investigation and outrage across the country.
Officials with the state Livestock Board executed a search warrant Thursday at the Dexter home of Tim Sappington, who had worked in maintenance for the Roswell area Valley Meat Co.
The company, which is seeking USDA inspections so it can begin slaughtering horses to export the meat to Mexico and overseas markets, issued a statement Thursday confirming that the man in the video is Sappington, a former employee.
The company’s attorney, A. Blair Dunn, said Valley Meat fired Sappington after becoming aware of the video, which was posted a year ago but has now become the focus of a public relations campaign by the Horse Plus Humane Society.
Chaves County Sheriff Rob Coon, whose agency is supporting the Livestock Board investigation, said the shooting of the horse is being examined as an animal cruelty case. But, Coon added, “It’s going to be up to the district attorney and the Livestock Board to come to that conclusion.”
Coon said his department had received “lots of email, lots of calls, lots of faxes from people all over the country” about the video, which he described as “very disgusting.”
Coon added: “For a man to make his point by shooting a helpless horse that deserved better than that.”
The Valley Meat statement said Sappington euthanized the horse “as was his legal right for his own consumption,” and Dunn noted that Sappington “precisely and exactly euthanized a horse in the proper fashion.”
In a 51-second video posted to YouTube, Sappington leads a brown horse by a rope to a spot in a dirt road next to a trailer. After briefly stroking the horse’s nose and then its neck, he says, “All you animal activists, (expletive) you,” pulls a handgun from its holster, places it against the horse’s forehead and fires a single shot.
The horse appears to leap involuntarily into the air, its legs curling beneath it, and crashes to the ground. Sappington turns to glare briefly at the camera and then walks away, saying, “Good.”
Sappington could not be reached for comment Thursday. A still image from the video, which Dunn said was made in early 2012, is posted on Sappington’s Facebook site, where he states he worked for Valley Meat since 1995.
“We agree that his (Sappington’s) comments were regrettably crass, not contributing anything to this dialogue so we do not condone his statements,” says the Valley Meat statement, “but he was within his lawful rights to slaughter and butcher a horse and he was not acting as an employee of the company in that action.”
Dunn noted that, over the last year since Valley Meat’s efforts to become the first company in the U.S. since 2006 to slaughter horses for the consumer market became public, the company’s ownership and staff have received death threats and bomb threats, including a bomb threat on Monday. The slaughterhouse has also been burglarized and vandalized, Dunn said.
The Valley Meat statement said “the opposition is now resorting to terrorist tactics.”
“.While Mr. Sappington’s personal comments are inappropriate, they pale in comparison to threatening to bomb people and kill their families,” the statement says. “… No animal is worth threatening or ending a person’s life.”
A mailer from an advocacy group called Horse Plus Humane Society to its supporters said Sappington’s action — swearing at animal rights activists before shooting the unsuspecting horse in the head — “could be considered a hate crime against all of us who have spoken out against the Roswell, NM horse slaughter house.”
A spokeswoman for the Livestock Board said only that the investigation is ongoing. Animal Protection of New Mexico forwarded a copy of the video to the Livestock Board on Thursday, but it was not clear if that initiated the investigation.
Laura Bonar of Animal Protection of New Mexico said Sappington’s actions might qualify as exteme animal cruelty, defined as maliciously killing an animal.
“Posting that video is not doing anything toward solutions for horses that are suffering,” Bonar said. “The act itself is very disturbing and troubling.”
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal