‘We got him.’ New court filings shed light on seizure and slaughter of Cedar the goat

Shasta County sheriff’s Lt. Jerry Fernandez made the call around 9 p.m. on July 8, 2022, reporting on his way back to Redding from Napa County that his mission had been a success.

“We got him,” Fernandez reported. “We’re on our way back.

“Probably be home around midnight.”

The lieutenant’s quarry had been apprehended without incident and soon would be delivered for safekeeping to the home of Bruce John “BJ” Macfarlane, the livestock manager for the Shasta District Fair.

“Goat is at my house...” Macfarlane later texted Kathie Muse, a 4-H volunteer and an organizer of the fair’s annual barbecue. “Talked to sheriff and he said to wait until he talks to DA before we kill goat.

“It is perfectly fine at my house till we figure it out.”

This is the last known residence for Cedar the goat, a doomed 7-month-old Boer goat who within three weeks would be slaughtered at the behest of fair officials and over the protests of the goat’s owner: a 9-year-old girl whose family had gone to extreme lengths to save Cedar after changing their minds about letting him be auctioned at the fair 18 months ago.

Cedar’s fate rivets national attention

Since then, Cedar’s saga has become a national sensation, with coverage and editorials by major national newspapers, websites and networks.

The goat’s seizure by sheriff’s officials from a goat sanctuary in Sonoma County has resulted in a federal civil rights lawsuit by the family that owned Cedar, and sparked a countersuit by California Attorney General Rob Bonta’s office threatening to hold them liable for costs of the legal fight with fair officials and the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

Lawyers for the family that owned Cedar said this week they still have not been able to determine what happened to the goat’s remains after it was slaughtered despite their efforts to save the animal.

“The number of government actors involved in the illegal slaughter of a child’s pet continues to grow, and we still do not know ultimately what happened to Cedar,” said Vanessa Shakib, who along with Ryan Gordon represent the family through their nonprofit Advancing Law for Animals firm.

But in court filings last month seeking the dismissal of Bonta’s countersuit, Shakib and Gordon shed new light on the lengths officials went in order to see that Cedar was slaughtered, and the intense focus the case has received.

“The top three most popular tweets about Cedar’s case obtained over 16 million impressions,” court papers filed last month in the dispute say. “One petition seeking justice for Cedar obtained 79,516 supporters, while another petition obtained 43,065 supporters.”

‘Stop killing goats. What is wrong with you?’

Newly released documents and excerpts from depositions illustrate the shadow Cedar cast over state officials as angry members of the public voiced their displeasure over the goat’s slaughter and officials scrambled to contain a public relations nightmare.

“Stop killing goats. What is wrong with you?” one commenter wrote into the website of Redding’s Wallner Plumbing Heating & Air, where president Patrick Wallner also serves on the Shasta District Fair Board. “You should be ashamed.

“I’ll never use your business and I will tell everyone to stop using your business. Complete knucklehead.”

Macfarlane testified in a deposition that he had to change his phone number after news stories about the affair broke.

“The amount of social media and phone calls and just ridicule I got from across the country was more than I ever wanted to deal with again,” Macfarlane said in a November deposition. “I’m guessing eight to 10 voicemails from disgruntled people across the country wishing death upon me and my family.

“That’s why I changed my phone number, when they started threatening my family. It was from Louisville to Detroit to our whole country.”

Shasta District Fair Chief Executive Officer Melanie Silva testified that the response at the fair office was even greater, with roughly 5,000 emails pouring in that she kept in a “Goat 2022” computer folder.

“We had to forward our phones because our phones were blown up,” she said during a deposition in November.

The ire directed at fair officials stems from the fallout after Jessica Long decided in 2022 to enter her daughter’s goat in the Shasta District Fair’s junior livestock auction.

The auction was part of a “terminal sale” in which the animals are sold off to the highest bidder to be slaughtered for their meat.

But Long’s daughter, who is identified in court papers as “E.L.” because she is a minor, changed her mind about auctioning off Cedar, who had become like a family pet.

Cedar was auctioned on June 25 to a representative of state Sen. Brian Dahle for $902, with $63.14 going to the fair and $838.86 meant to go to the girl.

But by then E.L. was sobbing in the goat’s pen and telling her mother that she did not want her pet goat slaughtered, and Long took it upon herself to spirit the goat away from the fair barn to a goat farm in Sonoma County.

Long offered to repay the fair for any expenses, and received permission from Dahle’s office to cancel the sale.

But fair officials wouldn’t budge, demanding the return of the goat and threatening to charge Long with grand theft if Cedar was not handed over, court papers say.

Jessica Long’s daughter holds Cedar’s leash. Cedar, a 7-month-old white Boer goat with chocolate markings framing its face, is now the subject of a federal civil rights lawsuit naming Shasta sheriff’s officials,
Jessica Long’s daughter holds Cedar’s leash. Cedar, a 7-month-old white Boer goat with chocolate markings framing its face, is now the subject of a federal civil rights lawsuit naming Shasta sheriff’s officials,

Officials seek PR solution after backlash

Then, things began to spiral out of control.

Bleating Hearts Farm and Sanctuary, a goat sanctuary in Napa County, posted a plea on Instagram asking people to contact the fair and ask that Cedar be spared, which led Shasta County sheriff’s officials to incorrectly conclude that Cedar was at Bleating Hearts and obtain a search warrant to seize the animal.

Sheriff’s officials became involved after Michael Flores, deputy director of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, suggested to Silva that she contact the sheriff for help, court papers say.

CDFA oversees the agricultural districts that run county fair operations, and emails filed in court show Silva had been communicating with a CDFA official on how to handle the dispute and deal with the negative media fallout.

“I wanted to give you a heads up about a situation we are having,” Silva wrote to fair board members on June 28, 2022, three days after Long took Cedar from the fairgrounds. “We are a terminal sale fair, a little girl was upset about her goat going to slaughter so her parents snuck her goat off the grounds.

“Since we are a State facility that is a felony. The mother confessed and BJ started to make the arrangements to get the goat back. In the meantime they started a social media flurry to ‘save the goat.’”

Silva added that she had been getting advice from a media specialist and CDFA’s fair and expositions branch chief, Mike Francesconi, on how to handle the fallout, and she asked that no one speak to reporters calling about the matter.

Shasta District Fair Board Vice President Alan Phillips responded to Silva’s email 13 minutes later thanking her “for the head’s up,” court records show.

“As a highly practiced Media and Political Consultant myself, I agree with following the law as suggested by Mike Francesconi and I’m glad to hear that B.J. is on the interpersonal issue,” Phillips wrote. “AND I would suggest we consider a potentially, not-too-hardline Public Relations move/releases by the ready that may help erode any negativity brewing.

“Using a ‘No Comment’ strategy can backfire. Anyway, these types of incidents often have a short shelf life. Good luck.”

State and fair officials did not adopt his strategy, instead opting to decline comment when The Bee contacted them after Long’s lawsuit was filed in Sacramento federal court on Aug. 31, 2022. CDFA officials also did not include the Silva or Phillips email among documents released to The Bee in December 2022 in response to a California Public Records Act request.

In any event, Phillips’ prediction of a “short self life” for the Cedar story did not turn out to be accurate.

The New York Times and Washington Post covered the story, as did numerous other publications, websites and networks. The German magazine Der Spiegel contacted The Bee seeking documents related to the sheriff’s search for Cedar.

And Phillips conceded in an April 6, 2023, email with the subject line “Viral Goat media” that the furor had not subsided.

“With the extreme blowback recently of media (social, podcasts, local, regional and national) surrounding the goat incident, I have been included with hundreds of Twitter mentions along with Governor Newsome (sic) - as that relates to letters of complaint to Melanie and our Governor,” Phillips wrote, according to court records. “Having also received several messages from complainers on my home phone I am not happy. Of course, I have not responded nor communicated that matter with several news inquiries nor anyone.”

Cedar the goat shown before the family pet was seized by sheriff’s officials and taken to slaughter, according to a federal civil rights lawsuit.
Cedar the goat shown before the family pet was seized by sheriff’s officials and taken to slaughter, according to a federal civil rights lawsuit.

Court filings shed new light on Cedar’s fate

Long’s lawyers have continued to pursue the case by deposing various fair and sheriff’s officials, including Lt. Fernandez, who testified that he was assigned to the case by Shasta County Sheriff Michael Johnson.

Fernandez said he was told “just that the goat was stolen and that because of my collateral assignment as a livestock investigator that I needed to reach out to the people from the fair and basically conduct an investigation,” court records say.

The investigation eventually led Fernandez and Detective Jacob Duncan to drive to Bleating Hearts in Napa County in search of Cedar.

The goat had never actually been at that sanctuary, court records say, but the sheriff’s officials’ visit to the sanctuary and their discussions with Bleating Hearts founders Justin and Kristin Starkey ultimately led them to the goat, according to court records.

Duncan testified in an August deposition that as he was talking to Kristin Starkey at the sanctuary she was looking for Long’s phone number in her cellphone.

“And I was asking her about Cedar and while she was looking for, I believe, Jessica’s phone number, she was standing close to me and I could see her scrolling through some emails,” Duncan testified. “And I pointed that fact out to her and she said, ‘Yeah, I got some emails here’ or something along those lines...

“And I asked her if I could see them and she said some form of ‘yeah’ and handed me the phone to view those. I think she was a good-natured person. I think my opinion is that she was nervous just talking to law enforcement, but she had intentions to be cooperative.”

Duncan added, “Well, in my conversation with Kristin and review of her emails, I discovered that Cedar was at Billy’s Mini Goat Farm in Sonoma. I think we left directly following when that interview ended. We went directly to Billy’s Mini Goat Farm in Sonoma.”

Court documents say Cedar ended up at Macfarlane’s house on July 8, and apparently was slaughtered at Bowman Meat Co. on July 28 despite repeated efforts by Gordon to find Cedar before he could be killed.

“The constitutional violations just keep mounting,” Gordon, of Advancing Law for Animals, told The Bee last week. “After Cedar was illegally seized, I called the Sheriff’s Office and others multiple times to demand he be kept alive.

“Now evidence suggests that, at the same time, the Sheriff and DA were apparently deciding whether Cedar lives or dies.”

Cedar the goat was auctioned off in June at a Shasta County fair, but the family that owned the goat had second thoughts and offered to pay any losses to keep the pet from being slaughtered. A new lawsuit says Shasta sheriff’s officials later tracked the goat down to a farm in Sonoma County and had it taken to slaughter.
Cedar the goat was auctioned off in June at a Shasta County fair, but the family that owned the goat had second thoughts and offered to pay any losses to keep the pet from being slaughtered. A new lawsuit says Shasta sheriff’s officials later tracked the goat down to a farm in Sonoma County and had it taken to slaughter.

Gordon wrote in a declaration filed in court that he learned on July 14, 2022, that Cedar had been seized, and that he called Detective Duncan the next day “to inquire about the status of Cedar.”

“Detective Duncan did not respond so I left (a) message explaining that I represented the Plaintiffs and they wanted to know where Cedar was and what happened to him,” Gordon wrote. “I explained that I understood he (Detective Duncan) confiscated so I requested that he call me back to provide an update on Cedar’s whereabouts.”

Gordon also called the county counsel’s office the same day asking that someone there “find out where Cedar was, if he was alive and, if he was alive, to communicate that my client demand Cedar be kept alive,” court records say.

Gordon wrote that he heard nothing back, and that on July 18 he left another message for Duncan.

“That same day he returned my call and explained that he had no information on the whereabouts (of) Cedar,” Gordon wrote. “Based on his deposition testimony, however, that was untrue.

“He knew Cedar was dropped off to BJ Macfarlane.”

The next day, Gordon reached Fernandez as he tried to find out where Cedar was.

“I expressed that my clients were interested in details regarding to the status and whereabouts of Cedar but he refused to provide any,” Gordon wrote. “He only stated that Cedar was confiscated and returned to ‘who we deemed to be his owner.’”

Gordon continued to press for information, contacting county counsel Adam Pressman on July 27, 2022, and asking in an email “if you could confirm the whereabouts of Cedar (the goat) and whether he’s alive or dead.

“Our clients would really like to know.”

Court records say that the same day Pressman replied, writing, “I’m sorry Ryan. I’m just not willing to get involved to that point. The Sheriff’s Office does not have the goat.”

“Based on testimony in this matter, Cedar was alive throughout these communications and the Sheriff’s Office, whom County Counsel represents, had constructive possession of him,” Gordon wrote in his declaration. “My clients now understand that Cedar was apparently killed on July 28, 2022, by order or approval of the Sheriff himself, the day after County Counsel Adam Pressman represented the ‘Sheriff’s Office does not have the goat.’”

‘What did you end up doing with the goat?’

Text messages filed in court show Kathie Muse asking Mcfarlane about Cedar on July 26.

“Hey BJ What did you end up doing with the goat?

“Bowman is killing goat today finally,” Mcfarlane replied at 7:47 a.m. on July 28.

“Good news finally,” Muse replied, according to court records.

A separate set of text messages between Silva and Mcfarlane filed in court also show discussion about how to explain Cedar’s fate.

“Kathy said ok but no one needs to know about this,” Mcfarlane wrote to Silva on July 22. “U me and Kathy are only ones. It got killed and donated to non profit if anyone asks.”

Text messages filed in court also show the response to word that the family had filed a lawsuit.

“My phone has not stopped ringing,” McFarlane texted Muse, according to court files. ”Bul----.”

“What a bunch of s---,” Muse replied, adding an angry-face emoji.