Norfolk, Va. - An animal-rights group is accusing Suffolk leaders of turning a blind eye to what it calls an illegal animal slaughter on a farm near the North Carolina border.
In a letter to Suffolk Mayor Linda Johnson delivered Monday, a representative of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals says the city “refused to act” to prevent a government contractor from shooting live animals as part of a battlefield trauma course for local Marines. PETA says the trauma training, where pigs and goats are typically shot or stabbed to teach students war-zone first aid, took place late last month at 4800 Gates Run Road. That kind of training is legal, and it is frequently sought by military branches. But PETA says Suffolk’s zoning laws don’t allow it, and the city should have stepped in to stop it.
“These animals are being shot, stabbed and killed for use in medical training activities, which is a completely different use of the property than an agricultural use,” PETA’s Shalin Gala told NewsChannel 3.
Despite that claim, Gala admits he doesn’t know for sure what went on at the farm on Sept. 28th. But he says, PETA has assembled a paper trail of government bids and contracts that, combined with complaints from neighbors and statements from whistleblowers, make it “pretty clear” what unfolded.
Suffolk property records show the land is owned by John Janota, who is described in government documents as the CEO of a Virginia Beach based company called Assessment and Training Solutions Consulting Corporation. That firm’s web site and government bids show it provides “live tissue training” to the military, where farm animals are sedated and then shot, stabbed, or inflicted with other wounds to simulate battlefield trauma. Documents show the company has used more than 10,000 pigs in this kind of training in the past five years. Government records show ATSSC won a contract, and the contract called for the “live tissue” portion of the training to occur in Hampton Roads that day.
PETA’s evidence was apparently enough to initially convince Suffolk zoning officials.
“I have reviewed your concern and will have 2 zoning inspectors on site” that morning, wrote Patricia N. Southard, zoning administrator. “This will be an unannounced inspection, and I will provide information as to the results of our inspection once completed.”
PETA provided a series of emails between its workers and Suffolk officials. NewsChannel 3 also requested emails from Suffolk under the Freedom of Information Act, but the city has not responded.
Gala told NewsChannel 3 that on the day of the training, police, animal control and zoning inspectors showed up at the property. He also provided pictures documenting the Suffolk response. After first telling NewsChannel 3 the city had “no information” about any activity there, a Suffolk spokeswoman later confirmed police and animal control did go to the farm. Police officers reported hearing gunshots.
However, according to the emails, authorities were unable to investigate further. Southard, the zoning administrator, wrote to PETA that a “No Trespassing” sign prevented the inspection.
“Therefore, inspectors could not enter the property without a search warrant,” she wrote. “Based on a ‘suspicion’ that activity ‘may’ take place on site, I didn’t feel I had enough evidence to have the police request a search warrant…”
A Suffolk city spokeswoman later wrote to NewsChannel 3 that the city will not take any further action.
NewsChannel 3 tried to ask the company CEO if PETA’s claims about the zoning laws had merit. An email to the company was not returned, and the building listed in government documents as the company location had no signs, a locked door, and no one inside to answer. At the owner’s Chesapeake house, his wife answered the door and – before we asked any questions – said she didn’t know why we were there and she had nothing to say.
Gala said Suffolk had a duty to investigate, but did not.
“Heads are going to roll for this,” he said. “This activity is illegal.”
Suffolk officials said they would not comment on PETA’s written request that the city investigate, and to block further training.