Sheriff says FBI to probe activist traffic stop
GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — The sheriff of Malheur County in Oregon’s remote southeastern corner said Monday the FBI will investigate whether deputies acted properly when they pulled over an animal rights activist who had been taking photos of a controversial rodeo event known as horse tripping.
“We are sending all information and recordings that we have (to the FBI) and they will look at it,” Sheriff Brian E. Wolfe told The Associated Press in an email.
“I want to make sure nothing was done wrong,” he said.
FBI spokeswoman Beth Anne Steele said they became aware of the situation on Wednesday, but she could not comment on whether they were conducting an investigation.
Wolfe acknowledged that two deputies, acting on orders from a supervisor, pulled over Steve Hindi, president of Showing Animals Respect and Kindness, to get his name after he was told not to shoot video at the Big Loop Rodeo in Jordan Valley last May.
Wolfe said there was no traffic violation or evidence of any other crime.
Deputy Brian Belnap and Deputy Brian Beck were on duty and following orders from their supervisor, Lt. Rob Hunsucker, Wolfe said. There was no probable cause a crime or traffic violation had been committed.
No one has been disciplined or placed on leave, he said.
The animal protection group, known as SHARK, asked the state attorney general to investigate, but was told the office had no jurisdiction, Hindi said. Agency spokesman Jeff Manning said Wednesday he had no information on the request.
SHARK posted online videos of the traffic stop, secured from the sheriff’s office through a public records request, along with Hindi’s account of events. The sheriff’s office video includes comments from deputies saying they expected to be sued, and blaming the rodeo board.
SHARK, based in Geneva, Ill., has been campaigning for 20 years to stop animal cruelty at rodeos.
In 2012, an activist went to Jordan Valley and shot video of the rodeo, including a horse that broke a leg in a bucking event, Hindi said. The group was primarily interested in the horse roping event, where one cowboy throws a lasso around the horse’s head, and another ropes the front legs, sometimes forcing the horse to fall.
The Jordan Valley rodeo has been the only one in Oregon to offer the event.
Two activists returned to the rodeo in May. When one of them was recognized, they were told to stop shooting video even though local people who supported the rodeo were allowed to shoot video, Hindi said. One of the activists stopped, but the other didn’t and was arrested.
Hindi arrived the next day, and was using a digital camera capable of video to shoot still photos. He said he also was told not to video tape the rodeo, and when he pointed out that he was only shooting photos, he was told to return his camera to his car or leave.
Hindi said police were standing by during the altercation.
“I said, ‘Listen, this is just un-American. Give me my $5 back and I’ll just leave’” he recounted. “They gave me my $5 back and I left.”
While driving out of town, two deputies followed him for 10 miles before pulling him over, taking down his name and the identification number of his personal car, though he was driving a rental car, he said.
The Legislature this year outlawed roping horses by the legs for entertainment. It has been signed into law by the governor.
“It is one of the most cruel animal abuses I have seen in a long time,” said state Sen. Mark Haas, D-Beaverton, a co-sponsor of the bill.