Defense challenges search warrant in Swanville animal cruelty case

Attorney seeks to have results of Ireland Hill Farms search disqualified
By Ethan Andrews | Oct 30, 2018
Photo by: Ethan Andrews Defense attorney Hunter Tzovarras, second from right, asks State Animal Welfare Agent Rae-Ann Demos about details of a drawing she made Oct. 29 at a court hearing on animal cruelty charges against Swanville farmer Jerry Ireland.

Belfast — The attorney for Jerry Ireland, a farmer accused of inhumanely killing 12 pigs at his Nickerson Road farm, made his case Oct. 30 for challenging the validity of a search warrant that led to the charges.

Hunter Tzovarras argued on Ireland's behalf for a motion to suppress the results of the search, saying state agents did not establish probable cause for a crime before raiding Ireland's farm on March 28. Additionally, he said the warrant failed to include an address or otherwise identify the farm.

During the search, agents exhumed carcasses of 10 adult and two juvenile pigs. Five of the carcasses were seized along with one live pig.

Tsovarras said the purpose of the search warrant, listed as "evidence of crimes of animal cruelty," was too vague. He added that case law dating to 1979 has established precedent against overly general warrants. The assertion of animal cruelty, he said was based only on the "hunch" of District Humane Agent Rae-Ann Demos.

Assistant District Attorney William Entwisle said the reason in the warrant was amply specific.

"There's a vast universe of criminal activity," he said. "We're focusing on animal cruelty. Certainly that's what this case is about."

Justice Robert Murray suggested that a "good-faith exception" might apply, but he allowed the attorneys to argue the question further.

During the search, court records indicate that state Animal Welfare Program agents exhumed carcasses of 12 pigs that allegedly had been recently shot and buried.

While 12 of the 13 charges against Ireland are for inhumanely euthanizing his animals, much of the conversation to date has focused on Demos' assessment that the pigs were malnourished before they were killed, and that the timing of the deaths, the day before a planned inspection, was suspicious.

In an affidavit, Demos said she was contacted by Swanville Animal Control Officer Heidi Blood, who said she was at the house of one of Ireland's neighbors when Ireland was shooting and burying the animals. The affidavit included references to previous complaints alleging the farm was left unattended for periods and statements that Ireland had not been responsive to requests to inspect the property.

Demos testified on Monday that some of the exhumed pigs had been stabbed, with one being both stabbed and shot. This was the first public mention of any of the pigs having been stabbed. Demos rejected a suggestion from Tsovarras that they could have been punctured by the teeth of the backhoe agents used to exhume the pigs.

Tsovarras questioned Demos' qualifications, which are primarily based on experience with dogs and horses, not livestock. Demos said she has had annual training with a wide range of animals during her 12 years as an animal welfare agent. She shared some knowledge of Mangalitsa pigs — the long-haired specialty breed raised by Ireland — but said she was unaware that they are smaller than common livestock breeds, when asked by Tzovarras.

The defense attorney asked Demos how she determined the pigs had been malnourished. He questioned the body scores that Demos gave the exhumed pigs, which he said are considered normal. In court documents, Demos gave the exhumed pigs scores of 1-2 on a scale of 1-5, in which 5 is variously stated as "ideal" and "obese."

On Monday, Demos said she was using a scale with a range of 1-9. Tzovarras said body scoring scales typically are 1-5. Demos maintained that she was working from a 1-9 scale.

On the question of the missing address on the warrant, Justice Murray asked whether there was case law to support the significance of that missing detail. Tsovarras said he didn't know of any, but likewise he was unaware of any warrant that did not specify the location to be searched.

Ireland also testified on Monday, describing the layout of two of his properties on Nickerson Road — 282 Nickerson Road, a 70-acre property that includes his residence and the locations where state agents exhumed pig carcasses, and 361 Nickerson, a small parcel with a farmstand. The latter address appears on some documents related to the search and seizure.

Murray recessed the hearing asking the attorneys to submit their closing arguments by Nov. 16. He anticipated giving his reply by Nov. 26.

Comments (2)
Posted by: Heidi Blood | Nov 01, 2018 14:36

Im sure all of your visits were in the middle of summer to right? Most animals are happily grazing at that time, not boxed up in stalls with two feet of excrement in them and no access to dry bedding in below zero weather......I could go on and on, but I will let the FACTS of the case playout.

Posted by: Patricia Keyes | Oct 31, 2018 17:41

I've visited Jerry's farm many times, a couple of those visits were for hours. All his animals love him. They all were healthy.

I think the real story is why his neighbor was allowed to harass him for several years, using the local animal control officer and the code enforcement officer as useful idiots/tools and that his neighbor is a PETA activist. This is happening to small farmers around  Maine.

It is highly unreasonable to think that a farmer, when faced with changes to his daily schedule that limit farm work, and unable to find humane buyers for his left over stock, should be trucking them one at a time to a veterinarian to have them treated like family pets!!!  RIDICULOUS!

They aren't family pets, though Jerry was very kind to them. They are a farm product, and he humanely put them down, as any farmer would, when he could not continue to feed them, nor sell them. Virtually EVERYTHING this paper has said about Jerry has been outright lies to date. And yes, the forks on a backhoe can make "knife marks" in a carcass. It begs credulity that anyone would think differently!

Shall we also tell hunters to capture their deer in cages and bring them to the vet's to be put down???  Are PETA members not aware that anesthetic drugs are NOT WANTED in meat to be eaten? This whole thing stinks, and this paper is NOT finding out what the real story is.

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