Clarendon County Sheriff Randy Garrett said a 44-year-old man accused in the deaths of 300,000 chickens and the vandalism of 16 Clarendon chicken houses and one in Sumter County had an "ax to grind" against Pilgrim's Pride Corporation, a Sumter plant with headquarters in Greeley, Colorado.
"He had a vendetta against this company," Garrett said. "But in the process, he hurt our farmers in Clarendon and Sumter counties. They are the ones who have paid the price."
Garrett said now that James Laverne Lowery is in custody at the Clarendon County Detention Center, his main goal is to "keep him there until he is brought to trial."
Lowery faces eight counts of second-degree burglary and four counts of malicious injury to animals or property. Other charges - perhaps at the federal level - are pending.
"My main concern now is protecting our farmers, and one way to protect them is by asking the (county Magistrate judge) not to give him a bond today," Garrett said. "I've already spoken with one of the magistrates, and we've asked for Lowery not to be given bond. I do believe the farms in Sumter, Clarendon and surrounding counties would be at risk if he were to be let out. I have every reason to believe that he could do this again."
Lowery is accused of cutting alarms to the chicken houses on three separate nights in February, and then setting conditions in the houses for the chickens to suffocate to death. The animals were owned by Pilgrim’s Pride Corporation, a plant based in Sumter with headquarters in Greeley, Colorado.
The company provides feed for the chickens, along with the birds, and local farms operate somewhat as subcontractors, housing and raising the animals for up to nine weeks before returning them to the Sumter plant for processing.
Local farmers told The Manning Times in February that, depending on the birds’ ages, they can easily freeze or roast to death if temperatures are not strictly maintained in the houses.
Garrett said Lowery was previously a contract farmer with Pilgrim's Pride, but that the company ended his contract, allegedly for poor performance, earlier this year.
"They put him out of money, so he decided to do the same to them," Garrett said. "Mr. Lowery went on quite the crime spree, with no thought to anyone else but himself."
Damages to the chickens owned by Pilgrim's Pride were as much as $1.7 million. Individual farmers said chicken harvest typically bring between $8,000 to $10,000.
"You've got farmers who are out about $10,000," Garrett said. "He was going after the big man, but he really hurt the little one."
Manninglive.com will be posting video from a press conference with Garrett and Sumter County Sheriff's Office Chief Dep. Hampton Gardner in just a little bit. Gardner said charges in Sumter are likely.
Garrett said he has been in contact with the U.S. Attorney's Office, who could charge Lowery with up to 16 counts of tampering with the food chain, a charge that carries up to 20 years in federal prison.
Garrett said rewards of $50,000 and $5,000 offered by Pilgrim's Pride and the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, respectively, are not in play.
"Even with the rewards, we never received one tip about a possible suspect," Garrett said. "This was just good, old-fashioned police work."
Garrett said Lowery was a main suspect from the beginning of the investigation.
"As we continued to work this case, he became more and more our main suspect," Garrett said.
Lowery is scheduled for a bond hearing today before Magistrate Shayne Stephens.
VIDEO: Garrett talks chicken killings, Lowery arrest, possible federal charges