Keith Amberson

Intentionally starving his chickens to death

Everett, WA

April 2000

On December 11, 2000 Amberson, owner of Amberson Egg Farm in Everett, Washington was found guilty of cruelty to animals in The Everett district Court (3000 Rockefeller Ave). Amberson was sentenced to two years probation, which also prohibits him from owning, controlling or possessing any poultry or other farm animals during the 2-year probation. He also was fined $500 and given a 90-day suspended jail sentence and ordered to serve 200 hours of community service. Amberson was able to continually delay his court case but finally pled guilty to misdemeanor animal cruelty charges. Amberson was charged with 2nd degree animal cruelty, which carried a maximum fine of $5,000 and up to one year in jail.

  In March 2000, Pasado’s Safe Haven, in Monroe, WA, rescued 1000 chickens. About 150 hens died in the first week. 250 were placed with Farm Sanctuary in Orland, California and another 250 with the Humane Farming Associations' Suwana Ranch in CA, have since taken some 500 hens and given them life-long homes. Sheriff's deputies found about 1,000 dead chickens in a rat-infested chicken house, along with inoperable feeding and watering systems.

In March 1999 The Washington State Department of Ecology fined Amberson $21,000 for failing to comply with clean-up orders. In retaliation, Amberson starved his chickens to death but the owner of this egg-laying operation, with over 50,000 chickens was not prosecuted despite the extensive evidence provided which included video that showed chickens eating dead chickens and rats in the chicken houses. Charges were not filed at that time because poultry experts at Washington State University showed that it was not uncommon to withhold food from chickens for up to 22 days, to keep them from producing eggs. They also stated that chickens could safely be without water for 24 to 48 hours. Based on this information Attorney Michael Downs felt there were no laws regarding animal care that were broken.

Washington States Department of Ecology inspected the farm and found it to be in violation of environmental regulations because manure runoff was going into nearby Stevens Creek and also into Lake Stevens. Amberson was fined $21,000 for this pollution but on July 16th 1999, the fine was reduced to $10,000 with the stipulation that if he doesn't violate the state Water Pollution Control Act during the next year, he would not have to pay a penny of the fine. Amberson's appeal was granted because in September 1998, while delivering eggs in Everett, WA he was knocked unconscious and run over as a suspect attempted to steal his truck. Amberson was hospital9ised for about 3 months. Even though fecal cliform levels dated back to June 1998, the appeals board ruled that Amberson's injuries prevented him from responding to that complaint.

The Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney's office finally had officially charged Amberson with 2nd degree animal cruelty. The conviction could have meant a sentence of one year in jail and a $5000 fine. Amberson could not be charged with 1st degree cruelty because the charge requires proof of intentional harm.

Pasado Save Haven (http://www.pasadosafehaven.org), a Washington animal sanctuary provided video, photographic and necropsy reports and affidavits as evidence to the prosecuting attorney, James Krider. The original trial date was set for August 21st, 2000.

Complaints about the farm have been on file at the Snohomish Health District and the county as far back as 1977. In 1986 a plan was drafted by the Natural Resources Conservation District, to correct the manure problems.

In May 2000, the U.S. District Court for Western Washington had directed the U.S. Marshal's Service to sell Amberson's 20-acre farm at 9131 42nd St. NE because of a farm loan debt of more than $97,600. The foreclosure sale would allow Amberson to have a year to buy back the property by paying the bid amount, plus taxes and interest. If he doesn't buy it back then the purchaser would become the new owner. Amberson could farm the property during the yearlong "redemption period" however he no longer is licensed to sell eggs and his operation has reportedly shut down.

Reference:

The Humane Society of the United States

The Animal Legal Defense Fund

Pasado Save Haven

The Washington Herald

United Polutry Concerns