Agriculture to analyze rodeo video

Department had said no rules were violated

October 10, 2006


Staff Writer, The State Journal-Register 

The Illinois Department of Agriculture says it will conduct an investigation into alleged animal cruelty at last summer's National High School Finals Rodeo in Springfield.

Although the department denies it, the decision to investigate appears to mark a reversal from agriculture officials' previous stances. The department had said no cruelty laws were broken and that animal-rights activists who believe otherwise should complain directly to the Sangamon County state's attorney's office.

Department officials Tuesday told animal-rights activist Steve Hindi that they will scrutinize the rodeo if he provides investigators with unedited videotapes taken during the July 24-30 event at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. The rodeo also will be held in Springfield next summer.

Hindi previously provided the department with edited footage that appears to show horses being electrically shocked and bulls apparently being jabbed with sharp implements. Hindi also has footage and still photographs of bulls having their tails pulled as they leave chutes and enter the arena.

Hindi said he was happy to provide the department with unedited footage.

"If they really want to look at all these hours of footage, that's fine by me," Hindi said. "I'll be happy to give it to them."

During the rodeo, Dr. Colleen O'Keefe, a department veterinarian, responded only with "Thank you for your concerns" when Hindi sent an e-mail complaining that animals were being abused. Earlier this month, she and an Agriculture spokeswoman refused to watch footage with a State Journal-Register reporter, saying that department staff members who attended the rodeo witnessed no violations of state law. Agriculture officials also told the newspaper that it's up to the state's attorney's office, not the department, to determine if any laws were broken.

An Oct. 1 story in The State Journal-Register outlined Hindi's concerns and raised questions about animal treatment at the rodeo.

Agriculture spokeswoman Chris Herbert denied that the department has shifted its stance.

"He (Hindi) never provided us with any evidence to do an investigation with," Herbert said. "We asked him for a tape quite a long time ago. We need to put it into context. We said, 'Please send us the unedited version.'"

That's just not true, Hindi said. Besides complaining directly to O'Keefe and receiving assurances that no laws were broken, Hindi has held press conferences, sent footage to the department and the Illinois State Police and also posted footage and photographs documenting abuse in a Web site. At no point before Tuesday, Hindi said, has the Department of Agriculture asked for unedited footage.

"I have no reason not to give it to them," Hindi said. "Now, I certainly will."

If violations are found in the footage, Herbert said department investigators will make recommendations and prepare a report for the state's attorney's office. Even if investigators find no violations, Herbert said the department might still forward an assessment to prosecutors.

Hindi credited The State Journal-Register with forcing the department to act.

"Most Springfield media, they didn't want to latch onto this story," Hindi said. "You latched on in a way that couldn't be ignored. That's what got this going."

Bruce Rushton can be reached at (217) 788-1542 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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