The judge told the men that Angels for Animals and Animal Charity have first option to benefit from their community service.
By MARALINE KUBIK
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
CANFIELD -- The three men accused of beating cattle at a Beaver Township dairy farm last June pleaded no contest to a charge of animal cruelty.
The plea Friday afternoon in Canfield Court was part of an agreement between the three defendants -- Ryan C. Russo of Squires Court, Ryan A. Stevens of Topaz Circle and Patrick J. Lane of Dartmouth Avenue -- and the owners of the dairy farm where the act occurred, David and Kathy Moff.
Initially Russo, Stevens and Lane were charged with felony vandalism and criminal trespassing. Dairy cows were hit with a baseball bat and fluorescent light tubes, breaking the ribs of at least three cows and causing numerous bruises and lacerations. The vandals spray painted an obscene message referring to the attack on the street in front of the pasture.
The three pleaded no contest to a lesser charge of animal cruelty; the criminal trespassing charge was dropped.
Had the three men been convicted under the felony vandalism charge, they could have been sentenced to up to one year in prison and a $2,500 fine. Under the criminal trespassing charge they could have been sentenced to a $250 fine and up to 30 days in jail.
As is, they were sentenced to a $250 fine plus court costs; 90 days in jail, which was suspended; 24 months' probation; and 120 hours of community service. In addition, they must undergo psychological testing, counseling and treatment for behavior management, and make restitution to the Moffs.
Judge's comments: Before ruling on the agreement, Judge Scott D. Hunter told the three that their actions indicated that they were on a path that would inevitably lead them to incarceration and separation from civilized society unless they changed their ways. He also inquired as to whether the Moffs were satisfied with the plea agreement.
To complete their 120 hours of community service, Hunter told the men that Angels for Animals, Animal Charity and other such organizations would have the first opportunity to benefit from their assistance.
The amount of restitution paid the Moffs was not disclosed in accordance with a confidentiality agreement. How much damage their dairy business sustained also was not disclosed.
In August, Kathy Moff told The Vindicator that the value of the cattle ranges from $1,200 to $1,500 a head and that stress from the attack had had a negative impact on milk production.
The negative impact on milk production could be a long-term result of the attack, said Doug Martig, chairman of Agland Co-op and a retired Berlin Township dairy farmer. To resume milk production, he said, the animals may need to be rebred and, even then, production may not return to previous levels.
Reaction: Attacks on farm animals have been on the increase in recent years, said Pearle Burlingham, director of the Mahoning County Farm Bureau. She said not many farmers are willing to pursue charges the way the Moffs did.
"We're all grateful to them. They helped the farmers in Mahoning County by taking their loss to the judicial system. This case found the public was interested and appalled at the inhumane actions and abuse of personal property," she noted.
"This is the farmer's livelihood," stressed David Moff. "I don't think people understand where food comes from -- it doesn't come from the grocery store, it comes from the farms."
He said he and his wife are both satisfied with the outcome.
The Moff family has lived at and operated the Detwiler Road farm for five generations.