Charges dropped against activist who exposed Iowa hog deaths

FILE - This image taken from a May 19, 2020, video provided by Direct Action Everywhere, shows workers in Grundy County, Iowa, walking among carcasses and using bolt guns to kill pigs that remain alive after they had been exposed to heat in an effort to euthanize the animals.  Matt Johnson, an activist with the group Direct Action Everywhere, had been scheduled to stand trial Monday, Feb. 1, 2020, in Grundy County, Iowa, on two counts of trespassing at Iowa Select Farms properties. County prosecutors dismissed the charges Thursday, Jan. 28 at the request of Iowa Select, whose personnel had been subpoenaed to testify.  (Direct Action Everywhere via AP)
FILE - This image taken from a May 19, 2020, video provided by Direct Action Everywhere, shows workers in Grundy County, Iowa, walking among carcasses and using bolt guns to kill pigs that remain alive after they had been exposed to heat in an effort to euthanize the animals. Matt Johnson, an activist with the group Direct Action Everywhere, had been scheduled to stand trial Monday, Feb. 1, 2020, in Grundy County, Iowa, on two counts of trespassing at Iowa Select Farms properties. County prosecutors dismissed the charges Thursday, Jan. 28 at the request of Iowa Select, whose personnel had been subpoenaed to testify. (Direct Action Everywhere via AP)

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Prosecutors have dropped trespassing charges against an activist who helped secretly record Iowa’s largest pork producer using heat to kill thousands of hogs last year as the pandemic devastated the industry.

Matt Johnson, an activist with the group Direct Action Everywhere, had been scheduled to stand trial in Grundy County, Iowa, on Monday on two counts of trespassing at Iowa Select Farms properties in May.

County prosecutors moved to dismiss the charges Thursday at the request of Iowa Select, whose personnel had been subpoenaed but said they didn't wish to testify, court documents show.

“We cannot be distracted by individuals who choose to break the law and grandstand,” Iowa Select spokeswoman Jen Sorenson said Friday.

Johnson was planning a necessity defense, arguing that his actions were lawful because they were the only way to expose the inhumane treatment of animals. He was hoping to draw more attention to the company's use of a method known as ventilation shutdown to cut the size of its herd in May.

Johnson had acknowledged, however, that his defense was likely to fail and that he could face fines or jail time if convicted.

Iowa Select's animals are raised and sent to be slaughtered by Tyson Foods and other meatpackers, and they end up in grocery stores as bacon and pork under several brand names. The company is an influential backer of Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds.

Last spring, some producers said they had no choice but to euthanize hogs after coronavirus outbreaks at meatpacking plants led to closures and production slowdowns. They said they had no markets to sell them and ran out of space to house them.