Affidavits used for slaughterhouse search partially unsealed
VERMONT–In late February, a federal judge in Burlington unsealed redacted copies of affidavits submitted by the government to obtain search warrants of a Middlebury slaughterhouse under investigation for its practices in fulfilling a contract with the New York City Department of Corrections. The action came in response to a reporter’s request.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Jerome Neidermeier authorized two searches of Middlebury Packing Co. in April and November of 1996, based on affidavits submitted by a special agent for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The court sealed the search warrants and the affidavits.
After the November search, Burlington Free Press reporter Mike Donoghue asked the court to release all the documents pertaining to the search, arguing that the press had a First Amendment and common law right of access to the documents.
The government agreed to the release of the warrants but opposed unsealing the affidavits, arguing that they contained information about secret grand jury proceedings and that their release could adversely affect its ongoing criminal investigation.
After the court inspection in chambers the documents submitted by the government in support of its motion in opposition, it unsealed the warrants and redacted copies of the affidavits.
The slaughterhouse, a subcontractor with New York City’s corrections department, provided more than 2.6 million pounds of “Halal” meat for Muslim inmates and others with special dietary needs between July 1994 and December 1996. According to the unsealed documents, the city pays “significantly more” for the special meat than for regularly processed meat products.
The government is investigating alleged violations of meat inspection laws and the 1993 disappearance of a federal meat inspection stamp from the slaughterhouse. (In re: Search Warrants of Middlebury Packing Co., Inc.)