Judge rejects Ireland's request to toss search warrant evidence

By Stephanie Grinnell | May 01, 2019
File photo Ireland Hill Farm in March 2018, the day a state Animal Welfare agent conducted a search warrant, which later led to more than a dozen counts of animal cruelty against the farm's owner, Jerry Ireland.

Belfast — A judge rejected a Swanville farmer’s request to exclude evidence gathered under a search warrant, according to multiple statewide media reports.

Jerry Ireland and his attorneys hoped to have the search warrant and evidence collected by Animal Welfare agents under the warrant deemed invalid. In October 2018, attorney 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, 2018. Additionally, he said the warrant failed to include an address or otherwise identify the farm.

Ireland is accused of inhumanely killing 12 pigs at his Nickerson Road farm. 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. Five of the carcasses were seized, along with one live pig.

Ireland pleaded not guilty to 13 counts of animal cruelty in May 2018.

Ireland testified in October, 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.

Swanville Animal Control Officer Heidi Blood previously said she fielded ongoing complaints for animal trespass and lack of care at the farm dating back two years. She and state agents inspected the farm in December 2017 based on concerns that the animals, including at least one cow, weren't being fed, watered and sheltered properly. At that time, Ireland was given notice to shore up some buildings, which Blood said he did.

However, more complaints followed in January 2018, Blood said at the time.

According to previously published reports, Ireland had been notified of the coming state inspection, and while euthanizing animals is not illegal, Agent Rae-Ann Demos of the Animal Welfare Program said the way in which Ireland conducted himself suggested he was trying to bury proof that the animals had not been cared for properly.

Ireland began farming in Maine in 2012, according to Journal archives. At that time, Ireland Hill Farms raised beef, milk cows, laying hens, hog breeding stock, and pigs to sell for pork in addition to maple syrup and more than 35 different varieties of apples as well as vegetables.

Ireland, an Army veteran, gained local and statewide fame as founder of United Farmer Veterans of Maine, a nonprofit organization that aims to help Maine veterans through agriculture. He left the organization in summer 2018, he said, in part because of the charges leveled against him.

In an op-ed submitted to — but unpublished by — several statewide newspapers and forwarded to The Journal by Ireland, he blamed his legal troubles on a harassing neighbor and "group of local vegan activists."

"I will deal with this after my name is cleared," he wrote, "in the proper manner — through the court system, not the court of public opinion."

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