Florida lawmakers working to fix challenges regarding shutting down illegal slaughterhouses

Local 10 News is investigating allegations of unsanitary and cruel illegal slaughterhouses operating in South Florida, and the challenges when it comes to shutting them down or holding anyone accountable.

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – Local 10 News is investigating allegations of unsanitary and cruel illegal slaughterhouses operating in South Florida, and the challenges when it comes to shutting them down or holding anyone accountable.

Efforts have been ongoing by local and state leaders to crack down on the alleged crime: inhumane and unsanitary animal slaughter in southwest Miami-Dade County.

Local 10 News obtained a 911 recording in which the caller reported the acts.

“I seen them stabbing the animals brutally and the animals were living for a good bit of time after they were stabbed and they bled out slowly to death,” the caller stated.

The incident, which happened last November at a property on Southwest 194th Avenue followed months of investigation by the Animal Recovery Mission, or ARM.

Much of the video shared exclusively with Local 10 News is too graphic to show, but depicts pigs and other animals, at times stabbed and shot inhumanely left to die slowly.

That meat was then sold to customers.

“They’re some of the most unsanitary properties in this country unenforced,” said Richard Couto, President of ARM. “There’s no regulation.”

Florida’s Department of Agriculture told Local 10 News their records do not reflect anyone licensed for those activities at that address. What’s more, Couto said the man running the property, identified in a police report as Sergio, was also caught on camera conducting illegal sales of horse meat.

Miami-Dade police told Local 10 News ARM initially reached out to them with a tip about the location, but there had been no contact for months until the 911 call came in.

Police said there are privacy concerns over using ARM’s video, and say in the days after the 911 call the operation had packed up and relocated.

Miami-Dade Commissioner Danielle Cohen Higgins said she’s extended an offer to both ARM and Miami-Dade police to try to bridge that gap. She’s also introduced a new ordinance that would create tougher penalties for animal cruelty in the county.

“Obviously law enforcement is restricted, as is ARM, by laws, and you know what ARM sometimes brings to Miami-Dade Police Department can’t be used as evidence because of a number of rules and regulations that restrict what they can do,” she said. “I absolutely think there are ways to do this, and I think that end needs to be accomplished sooner rather than later.”

State Senator Jason Pizzo is a former Miami-Dade prosecutor who has worked on cases just like this. He believes the expectation to privacy is debatable on a property selling meat to the public without a license.

“It’s really concerning to see. There’s almost too much analysis paralysis, right?” he said. “If I have the same ready open access to go onto a property that’s selling or engaged in certain illegal activity, then there is no expectation to privacy. It’s pretty basic.”

Pizzo said the priority should be shutting these operations down, if only for health reasons, but with that said, “I believe that a number of agencies feel real limitations and restrictions, which it’s okay to feel that way, just tell me what parts of the statute I need to amend to allow for this to go forward.”

Commissioner Cohen Higgins said there’s one change she’s already set in motion: moving the Police Agricultural Unit from the Hammocks-area deeper into Southwest Miami-Dade, the remote area they’re often tasked with investigating.

“Our Redland-area, where these instances of animal abuse are taking place, and with a greater police presence, my hope is there will be a greater crackdown on these animal cruelty cases,” she said.

The proposed new ordinance is currently making its way through the county commission. No arrests have been made in connection with the case from last November.

About the Author:

Amy Viteri is an Emmy Award-winning journalist who joined Local 10 News in September 2015. She's currently an investigative reporter and enjoys uncovering issues facing South Florida communities. A native of the Washington, D.C., area, she's happy to be back in South Florida, where she earned a masters degree at the University of Miami.