The owner of an Inland Empire livestock auction pleaded no contest Monday to animal cruelty charges under California's "downer" law, which prohibits the sale, transport or abuse of injured livestock.
Horacio Santorsola, owner of Ontario Livestock Sales, pleaded to one misdemeanor count of animal cruelty in San Bernardino County Superior Court and will face two years of probation and fines, according to a spokesman for the San Bernardino County district attorney.
Key evidence against Santorsola came from investigators at the animal rights group Mercy For Animals, who released hidden-camera video that showed workers at the auction beating, throwing and neglecting injured, lame, or sick animals.
In the video, workers can be seen beating animals with shovels, throwing them into pens and leaving bloodied or injured livestock unattended in their stalls.
"We think that these charges should serve as a warning to auctions that animal abuse will not be tolerated," said Matt Rice, director of investigations at Mercy For Animals. "Law enforcement is willing to take action on these cases."
The state's "downer" law prohibits workers at slaughterhouses, livestock auctions or stockyards from buying, selling or slaughtering an injured or sick animal that is unable to stand or walk, requiring workers to handle them humanely and euthanize them instead.
Santorsola had argued that the state's law did not apply to his facility, since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that California's "downer" regulations were trumped by the federal government, which conducts inspections at many livestock facilities nationwide. Federal government regulations allow injured or sick livestock to be sold and slaughtered if they pass an extra inspection.
A San Bernardino County Superior Court judge, however, ruled that livestock auctions like Santorsola's facility are subject to the state's law because they are not federally inspected.
Ontario Livestock Sales did not respond to a request for comment.
Having the "downer" law in place makes slaughterhouses and other livestock processors more vigilant, said Carolyn Stull, an animal welfare specialist at UC Davis.
"I think it has made a huge difference," she said. "It has gotten people to recognize the need to cull their animals earlier or treat them."