Sheriff: Vandalism suspect had an ax to grind

by MEAT+POULTRY Staff
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James Laverne Lowery, suspect in chicken house vandalism in South Carolina
Clarendon County Sheriff's Office wants James Laverne Lowery held without bond.

BISHOPVILLE, SC – James Laverne Lowery may have sought revenge against Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. after the company terminated his grower contract, but innocent poultry farmers in two counties also suffered financial hardships, said Clarendon County Sheriff Randy Garrett during a news conference about Lowery’s arrest.

Sheriff’s deputies arrested Lowery at his home on April 7. He faces eight counts of burglary and two counts of malicious damage to property. Lowery also faces possible federal charges in the future, according to Garrett.

“Once we wrap up all our charges, we'll be contacting the US Attorney's office,” Garrett said. “We think federal charges will be coming down from them.”

Greeley, Colo.-based Pilgrim’s Pride, a unit of JBS S.A. in Sao Paulo, Brazil, praised investigators for their hard work.

“Pilgrim’s was pleased to learn that officials have a suspect in custody and we thank the Clarendon County Sheriff’s Office for their diligence in investigating these incidents,” the company said in a statement.

Garrett said his office has asked that Lowery not be given bond. He noted that Lowery is not considered a flight risk. However, Garrett said he had reason to believe Lowery could vandalize more poultry farms in Clarendon and Sumter counties while free on bond.

“This takes a toll on farmers and their chicken houses,” Garrett said.

Lowery was a contract poultry grower for Pilgrim's, but the company terminated the contract allegedly for poor performance. Lowery stands accused of disabling alarm systems to 16 chicken houses over a period of two weeks. He allegedly turned the heat on or off at the chicken houses, killing about 300,000 chickens. Losses were estimated between $1.2 million and $1.7 million.

“Mr. Lowery went on quite a crime spree,” he added. “It’s our belief that he had an ax to grind with Pilgrim's Pride. But in that process, our farmers in both Clarendon and Sumter counties are the ones who had to pay the price for it. Our farmers are still in business; this is their livelihood and this is how they support their families and so they need to be protected. I think one way of doing that is keeping Mr. Lowery in jail.”

Garrett declined to provide details of the investigation that led to Lowery’s arrest. However, he noted that even with the rewards that were offered, investigators relied on “good, old-fashioned investigative work” to crack the case.

A bond hearing is scheduled for April 8. Magistrate Shayne Stephens will oversee proceedings.

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