A Kokomo man has been issued a warning by the state, and a criminal investigation is pending, after health officials found nearly 100 dead animal carcasses on his property, some of which were inside a pen and being eaten by pigs.
The State Board of Animal Health (BOAH) in November received a complaint that Jerry Rigsby had improperly disposed of dead swine and cattle on his property on the 2600 block of North 300 West, Kokomo.
Officials with the board of health, along with Howard County Sheriff’s Department Detective Ernie Shirey, responded to the property, where they found 99 dead animals that had been improperly disposed of and in various stages of decomposition, according to the report filed by the BOAH.
Rigsby said Wednesday he had hired two employees to operate the animal farm and wasn’t aware of the carcasses until he was contacted by the sheriff’s department in November after the investigation.
State law requires animal owners to dispose of a carcass no more than 24 hours after the owner knows of the death. State law says carcasses must be disposed of by burial, a complete incineration, composting that follows specific state standards, or taken to an approved disposal plant.
Violation of the state’s animal disposal law is a Level 6 felony.
Health officials said the majority of dead animals located on the property were pigs, ranging from weaner size to 60 pounds, and found along a fence row. They also found dead calves, ranging from 200 to 800 pounds, and a dead goat.
Officials also discovered seven swine carcasses located in a small pen with around 25 live pigs inside. Health inspectors said it did not appear that the pigs had food or water available, and the swine were eating the dead pig carcasses, according to the report.
A separate report by the BOAH evaluating the animal’s welfare said some of the pigs were observed to be coughing during the inspection, but most of the pigs appeared to have a normal body condition and didn’t appear emaciated.
Following the investigation, Detective Shirey called Rigsby and told him the swine in the enclosure needed immediate attention, including providing food and water and removing the dead pigs.
Rigsby said Wednesday he wasn’t aware of the carcasses until he was called by Shirey. He said although he owned the pigs, he had hired two employees to take care of them and didn’t know the workers had not properly disposed of the bodies.
“The bottom line is animals die,” Rigsby said. “When you have livestock, some of them are going to die. Any hog operation, they have a spot where they put their dead hogs, because they die every day. Where the ball was dropped was when the employees didn’t dispose of the hogs properly. They were being lazy and throwing them along the fence row.”
Rigsby said once he was informed by the sheriff’s department about the dead animals, he fired the employees and brought a crew out the next day to dispose of the carcasses.
“The fact of the story is that I wasn’t even aware of it until I was made aware of it by the sheriff’s department,” he said. “As soon as I found out about it, I got it cleaned up. I’ll take a polygraph test that I’ve never thrown a carcass anywhere. … That’s not my nature.”
According to the BOAH report, Shirey told health officials that Rigsby made a pile of all the carcasses and set it on fire. Health officials told Shirey that burning of carcasses is not permitted for proper carcass disposal.
Rigsby said all the pigs died during a cold snap, and one of the cow carcasses was from animal that was hit on the road that didn’t belong to him.
Shirey also informed health officials that Rigsby ended up selling off and removing all the live pigs from his property. Last month, deputies went back to the property and confirmed Rigsby had removed all the dead livestock, according to the report.
The investigation led the BOAH last week to issue Rigsby a warning that “should this violation occur again and animal carcasses are not disposed of properly, additional enforcement actions may be taken,” including monetary fines.
Shirey said Tuesday a criminal investigation is still open in the case.