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A California man one of four animal rights activists who came to Utah in September 2014 to document the journey that hogs make from a Circle Four pig farm to a Los Angeles slaughterhouse saw the misdemeanor trespassing charge against him dismissed earlier this month after prosecutors failed to turn over evidence to the defense before trial.
Robert Edward Penney, 66, of Laguna Beach, Calif., and three others, each were charged in Iron County Justice Court with misdemeanor counts of criminal trespassing on agricultural land and agricultural operation interference Utah's so-called "ag-gag" law, which makes it illegal to conduct undercover investigations or make surreptitious recordings of animal agricultural operations.
In January 2015, Iron County prosecutors dismissed the ag-gag charges, apparently because Circle Four Farms did not want to pursue it.
During a Friday jury trial for Penney, Judge Brent Dunlap dismissed the trespassing charge with prejudice, meaning it cannot be refiled, after learning that dash-cam video made by an investigating sheriff's deputy had not been given to the defense.
Salt Lake City defense attorney Angela Elmore, who took Penney's case earlier this year, said the prosecutor told her two days before trial that he had just gotten the video from the deputy. But the prosecutor added that there was nothing on the video concerning her client except him declining to speak to police. An attempt to send Elmore a digital copy of the video was unsuccessful.
During the trial, the deputy revealed on the witness stand that he had recorded witness statements with his dash cam.
"That was a shock to me," Elmore told The Tribune last week.
At that point, Elmore said, the prosecutor, Deputy Iron County Attorney Chad Dotson, admitted he had not watched the entire video.
Elmore then asked for a mistrial or dismissal of the case, arguing that prosecutors should have known the video existed and provided it to the defense prior to trial. The judge granted the request.
Calls to the Iron County Attorney's Office for comment were not returned.
Elmore said that Penney who was charged as a party to the alleged trespassing claimed that while other activists went to photograph the farm on Sept. 24, 2014, he waited down the street.
The three others charged in the case were Sarah Jane Hardt (also known as Sarah Gage), 45, of Los Angeles, Harold Weiss, 35, of Pasadena, Calif., and Bryan Monell, 52, of Mount Rainier, Maryland.
Each of them has pleaded no contest to class B misdemeanor criminal trespass. Their pleas were entered in abeyance, meaning the cases will be dismissed after a year, providing the defendants pay a $705 court fee and have no further illegal contact with Circle Four Farms, according to court records.
Amy C. Meyer, now 29, of Salt Lake City, was the first person charged under the "ag-gag" law, which was passed by the Utah Legislature in 2012.
In in February 2013, Meyer was arrested after she stood on public property next to a slaughterhouse in Draper and recorded images with her cell phone, including one of workers pushing what appeared to be a sick or injured cow with a bulldozer.
But the charge was dismissed about two months later, after prosecutors said Meyer had provided video footage showing she was on public property during at least some of the time she was recording the slaughterhouse.
In July 2014, Meyer and seven others filed a federal lawsuit challenging the law, claiming it discriminates against free speech and discourages covert investigations into animal agricultural operations in the state.
The plaintiffs Meyer; the Animal Legal Defense Fund; People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA); news journal CounterPunch; author Will Potter; animal investigation consultant Daniel Hauff; animal agriculture scholar James McWilliams; and local blogger and activist Jesse Fruhwirth filed the lawsuit against Gov. Gary Herbert and the state attorney general's office.
After an August 2014 hearing, in which U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby ruled against the state's motion to dismiss, CounterPunch, Will Potter, McWilliams and Fruhwirth withdrew as parties to the suit.
No trial dates have been set in the federal case.