California teens arrested in 920 chicken deaths

AP Photo/Fresno County SheriffThis undated photo provided by the the Fresno County Sheriff shows Gabriel Quintero

Deputies have arrested four young men — one adult and three juveniles — suspected of breaking into a Foster Farms chicken ranch and killing more than 900 birds with a golf club in California.

Fresno County sheriff's officials acting on several tips Wednesday tracked down 18-year-old Gabriel Quintero of Riverdale. Also taken into custody were two 17-year-olds and a 15-year-old.

All have been booked on charges of burglary and felony cruelty to animals.

Fresno Sheriff's Department spokesman Christian Curtice said he cannot release information about what prompted the killing of the chickens. He didn't anticipate any more arrests and said he did not know if the suspects had attorneys.

Investigators say the suspects pulled back a fence on Sept. 20 to break into a barn south of Fresno. Once inside they beat 920 chickens to death with a golf club and possibly another blunt instrument, investigators said.

The suspects were caught by detectives from a special Fresno-based agriculture task force, a sheriff's unit established to investigate farming-related crimes in the nation's leading agra-business county, with $5 billion in annual revenues.

Not all the chickens at the facility were killed, said Foster Farms spokesman Ira Bell, noting the barns typically have several thousand chickens inside. He said Thursday that as a chicken producer certified by the American Humane Association, the company takes the incident seriously.

“This disturbs us all,” Bell said. “It appears to be a very senseless act of animal cruelty.”

The suspects were not employees or related to employees, said Bell. The company is working with law enforcement to distribute a $5,000 reward.

The Animal Defense League had also offered a $5,000 reward, and officials there said they would be in touch with the Fresno Sheriff's Department.

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