Investigators conclude death of Fire Fly Farms pigs was accidental

Investigators conclude death of Fire Fly Farms pigs was accidental

The Westerly Sun

NORTH STONINGTON — The award for information leading to the conviction of someone responsible for killing two pigs at Fire Fly Farms has risen to $3,125, but official reports on the incident suggest that the deaths were accidental.

The two young pigs were found dead in their pen at the Button Road farm on June 29, with electric-net fencing wrapped around their necks. Both pigs were mulefoots, an endangered breed, and appeared to have died from the unrelenting 15,000-volt shocks they received from the fence each second. The Tillman-Brown family, which owns and operates Fire Fly Farms, had initially offered a $500 reward, but after word of the deaths spread, pledges began pouring in. The reward is “for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for torturing to death our two rare mulefoot pigs,” according to the farm’s Facebook page.

Reports from resident state Trooper Thomas W. Fabian and state animal control officer Todd A. Curry both conclude, however, that no one may be responsible.

Fabian responded to the farm nearly seven hours after the pigs were discovered, his arrival delayed by a serious accident that had occurred earlier that day. By the time he arrived, Dugan Tillman-Brown, the farm manager, had already removed the dead pigs to a compost pile to prevent cannibalism by the other pigs. Fabian reported that he saw a slight ligature mark around the neck of one pig, but no other signs of physical trauma on the animals.

The electric-net fencing used to contain the pigs was about 3 feet high, Fabian reported, and was used to separate the male pigs from the females. According to Fabian, Tillman-Brown said that no pigs had escaped from any of the enclosures in the past, but he had heard about pigs trying to do so.

Fabian searched the area around the pen for shoe prints or other physical evidence, but wrote that he found none.

Curry arrived at the farm on July 5 for his investigation. Curry, who referred to Tillman-Brown as “Dugan Tillman-Davis” or “Davis” in his report, arrived too late to see the dead pigs. He quoted Tillman-Brown as saying that the only blood on the animals came from their mouths and noses, and that there were no apparent cuts, wounds, or bite marks on the pigs.

The animal control officer also noted that the electric fences are left on all day, but the power switch can be accessed by anyone on the property, even when the farm is closed. (Because of zoning regulations, no one is allowed to live at the farm.)

A day after his visit, Curry wrote that he received an email from Tillman-Brown emphasizing that the death of the pigs was part of a pattern.

“We have had fences unhooked from the stakes and dropped (without disturbing the stakes), we have had leads unhooked from the chargers, etc.,” Tillman-Brown wrote, according to Curry. “All of those did not accidentally happen. Whoever is coming on our farm has perfected their techniques for neutralizing the fences. They were done by human intervention. We had someone try to push over our stone entrance using a very large truck. A 350 Ford could not do it. A tractor could not do it. It was a big truck. Our neighbors heard it and mentioned it to the first selectman days later.”

Both Fabian and Curry said they also spoke with Fred Launer, a North Stonington resident who is retired from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and has taught animal science at Tufts University and the University of Rhode Island. Based on pictures and descriptions of the scene, Launer suggested that the pigs were spooked and ran into the fence, entangling themselves without human intervention.

Fabian concluded that the incident had “no criminal aspect.”

The pigs “were either spooked by an unknown wild animal or attempted to breach the fence and managed to get their heads caught within the fence,” Fabian wrote. “Then once their heads became caught within the fence, I believe that electrical shocks caused a panic at which time they became completely tangled up within said wire electrical fencing.”

Both men concluded that the deaths were caused by multiple electric shocks.

Van Brown, a member of the Tillman-Brown family, said the reports had to conclude that there was no human interference because his son, in moving the pigs, had obscured the evidence.

“The crime scene was really compromised,” he said. “They could not tell from what was there that a crime had been committed.”

Although no evidence of animal cruelty could be found, Brown said Curry told him that he shouldn’t give up hope, because sometimes it can take a year or two to catch a criminal.

According to Brown, this type of electric-net fencing could only have been tampered with by a human. The thin fiberglass posts that support the netting are held in the ground with metal spikes that are the equivalent of large nails, he said. Thus, they would have been ripped out of the ground if the pigs had hit the fence with enough force to entangle themselves.

“To get the net off the rods without taking the rods out of the ground, you need opposable thumbs,” he said. “We don’t believe it was an accident.”

Fire Fly Farms has been locked in a dispute with the town over the title to the property, a former YMCA camp that town officials believe was legally required to be left as open space after the Norwich YMCA went bankrupt. As the dispute lingered, family members said they began to notice suspicious activity at the farm.

“We think it was harassment and intimidation culminating in the death of those extremely precious and valuable animals,” Brown said, noting that he was still heartbroken over the deaths.

“No animal needs to die like that,” he said. “I hope whoever did this is horrified with what they have done.”

Tillman-Brown had asked the resident state troopers to increase their patrols in the area, according to Fabian’s report, and Brown praised the police for trying to do that. There has been no suspicious activity at the farm since the pig incident, Brown said.

Despite the gruesome loss, Brown said it was uplifting to see how people responded to the news. A few dozen people have made pledges to the reward fund, he said, increasing it to more than $3,000. “There have been some really heartwarming things that have come out of this,” Brown said,


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