Animal rights group claims responsibility for vandalism at Lapeer County meat facility

MLive (Michigan)
By Gary Ridley |
August 28, 2013policecruiser

NORTH BRANCH, MI — Law enforcement officials believe “radical” animal activists are responsible for vandalism at a North Branch-area meat production facility.

Lapeer County Sheriff Lt. Gary Parks said detectives from his office are investigating an incident that occurred early Monday, Aug. 26, at McNees Meats, 6267 Old State Road.

Parks said officials learned of the incident after an email claiming responsibility was sent to police and media by members claiming allegiance to the Animal Liberation Front, an international group that vows to free animals and cause financial loss to those who they believe exploit animals.

The email, sent by Bite Back Magazine, a clearinghouse for reports of actions committed by animal-rights groups and their supporters, claimed that two ALF members traveled three hours to the facility and glued a truck ignition and the lock to the facility’s front door. The suspects also sprayed painted “Meat is Murder” on the front of the building.

One of the suspects claimed that they “freed fifteen enslaved cows from being slaughtered,” destroyed light fixtures and smashed chicken cages, according to the email.

Representatives from McNees Meats declined to comment on the incident but Parks said the damage at the facility is consistent with the damage listed in the email.

McNees Meats made headlines in 2011 after meat from the facility was linked to E. coli-related illnesses. At least five people were sickened and more than 2,000 pounds of ground beef were recalled due to the outbreak.

The Back Bite Magazine email cited the E. coli outbreak.

Jerry W. Vlasak, a press officer with the Animal Liberation Front, declined to comment if his group was involved with the vandalism but said these claims of responsibility typically prove true.

“As a press officer with the North American Animal Liberation Press Office, I cannot independently verify that this action occurred, only report that actions claimed anonymously such as this one have historically proven accurate virtually 100 (percent) of the time,” Vlasak wrote in an email to MLive-Flint Journal.

This is not the first time ALF operatives have claimed responsibility for such incidents in the state.

Rodney Coronado was sentenced to nearly 6 years in prison after the offices of two Michigan State University faculty members were firebombed and two mink research facilities were vandalized extensively Feb. 28, 1992.

The incident caused more than $1.2 million in damage.

Parks said his office has never dealt with a case involving the Animal Liberation Front but due to the size of scope of the organization he forwarded information on the incident to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for its assistance.

FBI spokesperson Simon Shaykhet declined to comment on the investigation.

Steven Chermak, a professor of criminal justice at Michigan State University, said groups associated with ALF are typically small and responsible for multiple incidents in multiple states.

“It’s an effort for intimidation and bringing publicity to their cause,” Chermak said.

Due to their mobility, Chermak said law enforcement agencies often struggle to catch those responsible for the incidents. However, Chermak said they are often able to link them to multiple incidents if they are able capture them.

Although authorities refer to their actions as eco-terrorism, the Animal Liberation Front is not designated as a terrorist organization by the United State government.

However, two members of the organization, Joseph Mahmoud Dibee and Josephine Sunshine Overaker, appear on the FBI’s list of most-wanted domestic terrorists for their alleged involvement in at least 17 incidents in the western United States including arson and destroying an electrical tower.

Chermak said most of the incidents involving the Animal Liberation Front include arson, bombings and vandalism but rarely end with injuries to humans.

“Recent activity of ALF has decreased over the last 10 years,” said Chermak.

Anyone with information on the North Branch incident is asked to contact Parks at 810-245-1382.