Newton Co. Prosecutor responds to questions about Fair Oaks case

The Newton County Prosecutor responded to questions about why he released details about the ongoing Fair Oaks Farms animal abuse investigation.

Posted: Jun 19, 2019 7:09 PM

NEWTON COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) - Weeks after undercover animal abuse videos were released, cars still sat in the parking lot at Fair Oaks Farms Wednesday. 

"What brought you to Fair Oaks today?" asked News 18's Kayla Sullivan.

I was just with a friend coming here to pick up her new dog," replied Emily Dunn. "I've never been here before. It's just a location suggested by the breeder."

Dunn had no idea about the controversy surrounding Fair Oaks right now.

"I can't believe I didn't already know, but yeah, it makes me not really want to spend more time here," said Dunn.

We told her about the latest statement released by Newton County Prosecutor Jeff Drinski Tuesday, “A third party witness has come forward to corroborate the allegations made by a suspect that the ARM employee encouraged or coerced the behavior depicted in the portions of video that have been released publicly. Detectives continue to investigate these claims through additional interviews and written discovery.”

Dunn said she doesn't really understand how an Animal Recovery Mission employee could have encouraged or coerced what was seen in the videos.

"I don't know, I guess I would need more information about how they actually coerced it," said Dunn.

Prosecutor Drinski didn't explain how and neither did the Newton County Sheriff's Office. 

"Neither office has even contacted me or my office," said Animal Recovery Mission Founder Richard Couto. "We've reached out to them, no returned phone calls, no nothing."

News 18 reached out to the Newton County Sheriff's Office to see if that was true and if so, why not bring in ARM investigators for questioning? However, the Newton County Sheriff's Office tells us it cannot comment on an ongoing investigation.

That's usually the case for prosecutors as well but however in this case, the prosecutor did release details about an ongoing investigation.

Prosecutors are beholden to Indiana’s Rules of Professional Conduct. It's difficult to say whether Drinski's comments violated prosecutor ethics but here is what is listed in the rules:

(a) A lawyer who is participating or has participated in the investigation or litigation of a matter shall not make an extrajudicial statement that the lawyer knows or reasonably should know will be disseminated by means of public communication and will have a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing an adjudicative proceeding in the matter.
(b) Notwithstanding paragraph (a), a lawyer may state:
      (1) the claim, offense or defense involved and, except when prohibited by law, the identity of the persons involved;
      (2) information contained in a public record;
      (3) that an investigation of a matter is in progress;
      (4) the scheduling or result of any step in litigation;
      (5) a request for assistance in obtaining evidence and information necessary thereto;
      (6) a warning of danger concerning the behavior of a person involved, when there is reason to believe that there exists the likelihood of substantial harm to an individual or to the public interest; and
      (7) in a criminal case, in addition to subparagraphs (1) through (6):
             (i) the identity, residence, occupation and family status of the accused;
            (ii) if the accused has not been apprehended, information necessary to aid in apprehension of that person;
           (iii) the fact, time and place of arrest; and
           (iv) the identity of investigating and arresting officers or agencies and the length of the investigation.

"You know, this could damage their case," said Couto.

We asked Prosecutor Jeff Drinski why he made this decision to release the statement. He replied in an email, "The case has produced a huge volume of media requests as well as a number of public comments that we aren't doing enough or doing it fast enough. I try to answer each media request I receive including follow ups in hopes that the public keeps faith that the investigation is moving forward."

"It's laughable," said Couto. "So, you've got to ask yourself, what's the goal of this prosecutor?"

We discovered Drinski is part owner of a beef operation known as Meadow Oaks Angus.

We asked Drinski if that played a role in his decision to release the statement about the witness. We also asked if Meadow Oaks is connected to Fair Oaks Farms at all.

We are still waiting to get responses to those questions. 

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