TWIN FALLS • A man accused of abusing cows at a Twin Falls County dairy was sentenced Wednesday in Twin Falls County Magistrate Court.
Javier Victor Rojas-Loayza, 40, was sentenced to 180 days in jail, with 170 days suspended and one day of credit. Magistrate Judge Calvin Campbell said the remaining nine days will be spent on the sheriff’s work detail, which Rojas-Loayza must complete within 90 days.
Campbell also banned Rojas-Loayza from herding or supervising animals during his two years on probation.
Prosecutors charged Rojas-Loayza with misdemeanor animal abuse after he was filmed by an undercover animal activist with Mercy for Animals.
The video showed Rojas-Loayza striking and jabbing at cows with a cane in the face and head, prosecutors said.
The national exposure of cow abuse at the dairy prompted the Idaho Legislature to this year enact the so-called “Ag Gag” law, which criminalizes undercover filming and reporting of agricultural operations.
Rojas-Loayza originally was charged in August 2012 but said he hadn’t known about the charge or that he was supposed to show up in court. He was arrested May 2 and bonded out the same day, then pleaded guilty May 6 at the court's counter.
Deputy Prosecutor Jethelyn Harrington asked that Rojas-Loayza be sentenced to 100 days in jail with 50 suspended, two years of probation and a ban from working with animals.
Defense attorney Alan Boehme said he didn't believe jail time was appropriate.
His client took responsibility for the crime as soon as he became aware of the charge.
"He realizes there may have been better ways to move the animals," Boehme said.
While Rojas-Loayza had some personal responsibility, dairy management was also at fault for allowing such actions, Boehme said.
Rojas-Loayza told the judge he sees the error of his ways and apologized. “I acted that way because the person in charge told us that was the way we did it,” he said.
He also criticized the undercover activist who recorded the video. “If he is the person he says he is, a person who protects animals, he should have stopped and said, ‘Hey, stop, that's wrong,’ and then correct us. But he never said a word until the government came to the dairy.”
Campbell also sentenced Jesus Garza in the Dry Creek Dairy case and said Rojas-Loayza's actions were much less egregious. Garza was seen in the video stomping on animals and “sexually tormenting” cows, Campbell said.
Rojas-Loayza's behavior."wasn't done with sadistic intent or sadistic pleasure of cruelty to animals," the judge said. The sorting of cows was “not done in a manner that was appropriate or safe. It was done in a manner that inflicted pain to the animals, which is not acceptable.”
Rojas-Loayza also must pay about $475 in fines and fees.
Luis Bettencourt, who recently sold Dry Creek Dairy, said he fired the employees after watching the footage of cows being beaten and dragged, filmed on his Dry Creek Dairy southwest of Murtaugh.
The video was filmed by a former employee who also works for Los Angeles-based Mercy for Animals. The animal rights nonprofit leads cruelty investigations across the nation.
Three of the five terminated employees were investigated by the Twin Falls County Sheriff's Office.
Garza was sentenced to a year of probation and given credit for 102 days he served in jail while awaiting trial. Campbell banned him from working with animals and fined him $500, with $250 suspended. Jose Acensio, charged with two counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty, has not been arrested. A $5,000 bond warrant for his arrest was recently returned without success.