An animal rights group is criticizing a Nebraska sheriff in online videos after authorities stopped members of the group near a U.S. Department of Agriculture research lab in Clay County, Neb.
The group from Geneva, Illinois, that calls itself SHARK has posted three videos on YouTube criticizing Clay County Sheriff Jeff Franklin, The Lincoln Journal Star reported Friday. The group's name stands for Showing Animals Respect & Kindness.
The group's president, Steve Hindi, says Franklin and his deputies stopped members of the group who were trying to take video of the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center with a drone.
The federal research lab has been under scrutiny since a New York Times story last year raised questions about how animals are cared for. The center conducts scientific studies to help the livestock industry increase the quantity and quality of meat production and improve safety.
The Agriculture Department reviewed the lab's animal care practices last spring and addressed recommendations outside experts made.
Franklin denies any wrongdoing. He said there have been several incidents in the county since the story, including trespassing, a mysterious fire and gates being opened at a feedlot on the research lab.
"It's just an utter smear campaign," Franklin said.
The animal group's Hindi said the sheriff didn't have a valid reason to stop a van driven by activists. An edited video posted online shows Franklin questioning activists about the drone before giving the driver a warning for speeding.
Hindi said it appeared Franklin was working to protect the research lab.
"The law is the law, and we follow the law," Hindi said this week. "What is not the law, you don't have law enforcement officers working as private goons."
The USDA lab is a major employer in Clay County and it sits on 34,000 acres of a former ammunitions depot between Hastings and Clay Center. Franklin said he worked at the center for about three years in the 1970s, much like many area residents have.
The center has 12,600 cattle, 13,900 swine and 3,700 sheep on which it conducts long-term experiments.
Hindi said a public records request his group submitted seeking records related to the traffic stop was ignored until the Nebraska Attorney General's office was contacted.
Franklin said the records request inadvertently went to his email's junk mail folder. He said he fulfilled the request as soon as he became aware of it.