Raleigh, N.C. — A state agriculture official leaked information about a raid on a Butterball turkey farm in Hoke County last month to company officials six days before the raid, according to a search warrant released Wednesday.
Hoke County deputies raided the farm, at 4213 N. Shannon Road in Shannon, on Dec. 29 after the animal rights group Mercy for Animals provided authorities with video of employees kicking and stomping birds, dragging them by their wings and necks and throwing turkeys around.
The group said one of its members worked at the farm for three weeks and collected the hidden-camera video.
Authorities searched telephone records last week after learning that Dr. Sarah Mason tipped off a veterinarian for Butterball about the raid on Dec. 23, a search warrant states. Mason is director of animal health programs in the Poultry Division of the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
A Butterball manager called Hoke County prosecutors on Dec. 23 to ask about rumors of a raid on the farm, and he later told them that his information came from Goldsboro veterinarian Dr. Eric Gonder, according to the search warrant. Gonder then implicated Mason.
"It appears there clearly was some inappropriate contact between one of our employees and a veterinarian for Butterball," Brian Long, a spokesman for the agriculture department, said Thursday.
No charges have been filed in the case, and Long said no disciplinary action has been taken against Mason yet, although officials have questioned her about the case.
"One thing I have been told is that her feeling has been that of remorse," he said. "We want to act appropriately, and we think to do that, we need to have all the facts."
The alleged leak occurred hours after Hoke County authorities called agriculture department officials for guidance on searching the Shannon farm and to see if anyone from the department wanted to inspect the turkeys, the warrant states.
Long said agriculture officials were somewhat surprised they were even notified about the pending raid because the department doesn't have the authority to regulate or investigate animal cruelty cases.
Butterball, which is headquartered in Garner, has said is has a zero-tolerance policy for animal cruelty.