California police drove 500 miles to seize a girl’s pet goat for slaughter

A federal civil lawsuit alleges that Shasta County, California, sheriff’s deputies traveled across the state to seize a little girl’s “beloved pet goat” for slaughter. A new report details how they broke the law by doing so.

According to the lawsuit, in June 2022, Jessica Long and her daughter, who was 9 years old and referred to only as EL, attended the Shasta County Fair. The fair includes a youth livestock auction, where members of the 4-H youth program display farm animals they have raised. Finally, the animals are sold to the bidders who offer the highest price for slaughter for meat. The fair takes 7 percent of the sale, and the children keep the rest.

In April, Long bought her daughter a goat she named Cedar. From then until the fair, EL “fed and nurtured Cedro every day.” She “bonded” with the animal just as she would “bond with a puppy” and “loved it like a family pet.”

At the fair, state Sen. Brian Dahle was the highest bidder for Cedar, pledging $902. But by then, EL was having second thoughts about sending her new four-legged friend to his death. She and her mother tried to withdraw Cedar from the competition, but were told the rules forbade it. After the auction, EL refused to leave Cedar, sobbing next to him in his pen. At this point, before the money was transferred to the owner, Long and her daughter sought to terminate the contract: California law allows that “a contract of a minor may be voided.”

Long told fair officials that she would be happy to pay the 7 percent fee that would come from the sale (in this case, $63.14) and take Cedar home. Anticipating controversy, she later took the goat to another farm in Sonora County, more than 200 miles away.

But in the following days, BJ Macfarlane, livestock manager for the Shasta District Fair & Event Center, the state agency that runs the fair, called Long and told her that if she didn’t return Cedar, she would be charged with grand larceny. Long offered to let the fair association keep the entire $902, but Macfarlane would not budge. She also reached out to Dahle, who agreed that he “will not resist her efforts to save Cedro from slaughter.”

In an email to the Fair Association, Long wrote of her efforts to “make things right with the buyer and the fairgrounds,” citing Dahle’s support and offer to pay for the goat “and any other expenses I incurred.” But Melanie Silva, executive director of the Fair Association, was unmoved. Silva responded that while she was “not at all sympathetic” to EL’s situation, “please understand that the fair industry was established to teach our youth responsibility and for future generations of ranchers and farmers to learn the process and effort required to raise quality meat. Making an exception for you will only teach [our] young people so that they don’t have to follow the rules that have been set for all participants.”

She concluded that it was “out of my hands” and that Long “will have to return the goat to the Shasta County Fair immediately.” According to the minutes received The Sacramento BeeSilva then emailed a state Department of Food and Agriculture official, saying a local community barbecue organizer had “contacted her attorneys regarding the theft of a goat donated to the barbecue.”

Two weeks after the fair, Shasta Sheriff’s Detective Jeremy Ashbee requested and received a search warrant, directing two officers to drive more than 500 miles to seize Cedar and bring him back to Shasta County. The warrant authorized a search to rescue the goats in Napa County, but Cedar wasn’t there. After the rescue, officers drove to Sonoma County and took Cedar away from the farm, even though that property was not listed on the warrant. (In a court filing, the officers argued that “no warrant was needed to find Cedar at the Sonoma farm since they had the consent of the property owner to remove the goat.”)

In an amended complaint filed in February, Long claims officers were then “required by law to detain Cedar or turn him over to a magistrate judge” so a court could determine Cedar’s ownership. But instead, they “independently considered unknown third parties … to be the owners of Cedro” and returned it to the fairgrounds.

Confusingly, Long isn’t sure what actually happened to Cedar: “We don’t have that specific information at this point and we can only speculate,” her lawyer said Bee. “Although it has not been confirmed as fact, we believe that Cedar the goat was killed.”

Long filed a federal lawsuit against all three officers in September 2022, alleging violations of the Fourth and 14th Amendments and seeking damages.

While Long and her daughter did seek to terminate the contract, it is hard to imagine a worse response from the state at any stage of the process. If both Long and Dahle agreed to terminate the contract, and Long agreed to reimburse the fair for his share of the purchase, then who was harmed?

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