Sheriff’s Office seeking suspect in death of 300K chickens, millions in damages
by Robert Joseph Baker | February 27, 2015 12:20 pm
The Clarendon County Sheriff’s Office is asking for the public’s help in catching the suspect or suspects responsible for the death of about 300,000 chickens and between $1.2 and $1.7 million in damages.
Sheriff Randy Garrett said Friday that suspects have cut the alarms to chicken houses on three separate nights in the past two weeks, causing chickens inside the suffocate to death. Sixteen chicken houses have been total losses thus far.
“The hardest criminal to catch is the one that works alone,” Garrett said. “I do not believe for one second that whoever is doing this is working alone. We need the public to come forward. If they’re hearing any talk, if they’re hearing someone brag about doing this.”
Garrett said while eight farms in Clarendon County have been hit – with four having substantial losses – the real target of the crimes is Pilgrim’s Pride in Sumter. The company, headquartered in Colorado, recently laid off about 100 people, Garrett said.
“This is someone who has a vendetta against that company,” he said. “But it’s the farmers who are suffering.”
Farmers spoke to The Manning Times on Friday, but asked for their identities to be withheld for fear of retaliation. They said they are provided the chickens and seed by Pilgrim’s Pride, and they then pay for the operation of the houses.
“That includes the utilities, the labor, the insurance, and anything else,” said one farmer. He said the chickens are kept for about nine weeks, and a full flock nets about $8,000 to $10,000 for the farmer.
“Right now, with how cold it’s been, and you’re thinking that you’ve spent up to $5,000 on propane, you break even about this time of year,” said another farmer.
One of the farmers hit first – on Feb. 16 – said he was lucky to check on his flock in the middle of the night.
“I go out there sometimes and check on them, and the alarm was off,” he said. “It was 101 degrees in there. Should have been 70. I was freaking out. I did lose a few, but not too many.”
The farmer said the attacks are coming from “someone who knows what he’s doing.”
“This person isn’t just off the street and out there flipping switches,” he said. “This person knows that bigger chickens need less heat, or that the smaller chickens need more heat. The temperatures vary from the time their chicks (about 92 degrees) to when they’re going out (about 55 degrees). This person knows what kills these chickens.”
Garrett said one flock of younger chickens was found huddled together in one of the houses.
“They had literally suffocated one another from trying to get together to get warm,” he said.
Garrett said the suspect or suspects are facing charges of first-degree burglary, malicious injury to personal property and cruelty to animals.
“We believe someone out there knows something,” Garrett said. “We want that person to call us. They can remain anonymous. They don’t have to even give us their name.”
Garrett said his agency is being aided by the State Law Enforcement Division and the Florence and Sumter sheriff’s offices. Sumter has had its own incident, which happened Feb. 20, the day after the second stretch of attacks in Clarendon County.
In Sumter’s incident, nearly 2,000 chickens were killed, causing more than $1,500 worth of damage in three chicken houses, according to a report from the Sumter Sheriff’s Office.
“They are definitely related,” Garrett said. “For some reason, Clarendon County is getting the brunt of this. But it’s time for it to stop and for someone to come forward and help us break the case.”
Farmers interviewed Friday said they have been taking measures to ward off further attacks.
“I have looked into getting some cameras, and got a quote right before I (came to the sheriff’s office) today,” one said. “I have a friend in Sumter who hasn’t been affected, but he’s sleeping out there with a shotgun at his houses. He’s scared to death. We all are. We’ve never seen anything like it.”