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Sheriff promises probe over activist traffic stop

August 14, 2013
By Jeff Barnard
Associated Press

GRANTS PASS, Ore. — The sheriff of Malheur County in Oregon's remote southeastern corner said Wednesday he is contacting an outside agency to investigate whether deputies acted properly when they pulled over an animal rights activist who had been taking photos of a horse roping event at a local rodeo.

"We are going to be looking into this further," Sheriff Brian E. Wolfe told The Associated Press. "I want to make sure nothing was done wrong."

Wolfe acknowledged that two deputies pulled over Steve Hindi, president of Showing Animals Respect and Kindness, to get his name after he was told not to shoot video at the Jordan Valley Big Loop Rodeo in May.

Deputy Brian Belnap and Deputy Brian Beck were on duty and following orders from their supervisor, Lt. Rob Hunsucker, Wolfe said. There was no probable cause a crime or traffic violation had been committed.

No one has been disciplined or placed on leave, he said.

Wolfe said he would not release the name of the agency until arrangements were made, but added that he was not contacting the state attorney general or another sheriff's office. 

The group, known as SHARK, has asked the attorney general to investigate. Agency spokesman Jeff Manning said Wednesday no one in the office had seen the request. 

SHARK posted online videos of the traffic stop, secured from the sheriff's office through a freedom of information request, along with Hindi's account of events. The sheriff's office video includes comments from deputies saying they expected to be sued, and blaming the rodeo board. 

SHARK, based in Geneva, Ill., has been campaigning for 20 years to stop animal cruelty at rodeos. 

In 2012, an activist went to Jordan Valley and shot video of the rodeo, including a horse that broke a leg in a bucking event, Hindi said. The group was primarily interested in the horse roping event, where one cowboy throws a lasso around the horse's head, and another ropes the front legs, sometimes forcing the horse to fall.

The Jordan Valley rodeo is the only one in Oregon to offer the event. 

Two activists returned to the rodeo in May. When one of them was recognized, they were told to stop shooting video even though local people who supported the rodeo were allowed to shoot video, Hindi said. One of the activists stopped, but the other didn't and was arrested. 

Hindi arrived the next day, and was using a digital camera capable of video to shoot still photos. He said he also was told not to video tape the rodeo, and when he pointed out that he was only shooting photos, he was told to return his camera to his car or leave. 

Hindi said police were standing by during the altercation. 

"I said, 'Listen, this is just un-American. Give me my $5 back and I'll just leave,'" he recounted. "They gave me my $5 back and I left." 

While driving out of town, two deputies followed him for 10 miles before pulling him over, taking down his name and the identification number of his personal car, though he was driving a rental car, he said.

The horse-tripping event prompted a bill in the Legislature this year outlawing the practice for entertainment. It has been signed into law by the governor.