The video is gruesome: a pit full of bones and body parts with a horse head clearly visible…pigs foraging around skeletal remains…
Animal Recovery Mission investigator and animal activist Richard Couto says he shot the video just steps away from upscale subdivisions and popular shopping areas in the Citrus Park area of Hillsborough County.
But now, Couto isn't alone in his crusade to shut down what he describes as the inhumane slaughter of animals on a handful of farms in the area.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund, a non-profit organization founded by lawyers and dedicated to strengthening animal cruelty laws and their enforcement, is suing the owners of two farms and the people who work there, on behalf of four Hillsborough County residents.
In what they describe as a landmark case, ALDF is using Florida's public nuisance law as grounds for the lawsuit.
We spoke with one of the plaintiffs, who lives near one of the farms.
"Constant gunshots. You're hearing gunshots at all hours of the day," said the resident, who did not want to be identified in our story for fear of retribution. "The smell. It's worse when it rains, just after it rains. It just smells like death. It smells like death and it smells like trash."
The resident is one of four plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed by the ALDF, aimed at two of what they describe as illegal backyard slaughter farms.
"What we see clearly, in the video, are the violations under the Florida Public Nuisance Law that enable and empowers the citizenry to take action," said Geoffrey Fleck, attorney for the ALDF.
Specifically, the part of the law that declares "places and groups engaged in criminal gang-related activity" to be a nuisance. It's based on hours of undercover video shot by Richard Couto, who posed as a customer to buy horse meat, goats and pigs.
ALDF attorney Geoffrey Fleck says the videos document horrendous animal cruelty and violations of Florida's humane slaughter law.
"They are shot with small caliber weapons at a distance, disabled, then cut, stabbed, put on hooks, hoisted up and disassembled -- alive," Fleck explained.
The lawsuit also contends that the farms are a "sanitary nuisance" where "animals are often emaciated and sick." It says they are slaughtered in "structures or barns that are filthy, unsanitary and unsuitable for food processing." It add that their meat is sold to the public "without oversight by the USDA."
Finally, it contends that "blood is poured onto the ground where it pollutes ground water."
"No one should have their water that they want to drink polluted with the corpses of illegally slaughtered animals," said Gael Murphy, a longtime animal activist and Tampa resident.
Murphy says that's just one of the reasons she signed on to the lawsuit. She also is disturbed by what she saw on the video.
"If we live in this county and we don't speak, then we are part of it, and I'm not part of it. I want it ended," she said.
FOX 13 tried to contact some of the defendants in the lawsuit by phone and in person, but were not able to talk to them.
Attorney Geoffrey Fleck says this is the first time ALDF and Florida residents have used a public nuisance law to try to stop alleged animal cruelty.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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