Suspended meat processor charged with assaulting inspectors

2013-08-07T17:30:00Z 2013-08-10T23:48:09Z Suspended meat processor charged with assaulting inspectorsBy SANJAY TALWANI Independent Record The Billings Gazette
August 07, 2013 5:30 pm  • 

HELENA — The owner of a local meat processor whose facility was recently tagged as “putrid” by state inspectors was arrested Tuesday on charges he assaulted two Department of Livestock workers.

Montana City Meats, a major buyer of local 4-H animals, was cited for “putrid” conditions in its Jefferson County meat processing plant last month, leading to a 90-day suspension of its processing license.

Tuesday, a follow-up inspection ended with the arrest of Garry Wheelock, the owner of Montana City Meats, on five misdemeanor charges including two assaults.

“The alleged victims were the meat inspectors,” Jefferson County Sheriff Craig Doolittle said Wednesday.

Wheelock was also cited with two counts of unlawful restraint, for allegedly not letting the inspectors leave, and obstructing a peace officer. He posted bond of $2,695 and was released.

After a visit by four staffers to the plant July 11, the Livestock Department ordered an immediate 90-day suspension of the company’s processing license.

“During that visit, we found several violations (of state law) including putrid sights and smells such as fly infestations, maggots, offal, bones and skins from a previous processing day, garbage strewn about, unfinished wood surfaces, rust, blood on the floor of the cooler, and a carcass that appeared to have been hanging too long that had developed a slick surface and an odor,” Gary Hamel, the department’s Meat and Poultry Inspection chief, wrote in a July 19 letter to the company.

Montana City Meats also, on June 8, sold misbranded meats — the “not for sale” labels had been removed — at the Helena Farmers Market, according to the letter.

In late July, Livestock Department Executive Officer Christian Mackay said the violations posed no health danger to the public.

In a July 23 letter to the processor, Hamel said Montana City Meats could stay its suspension for six months if it corrected the problems. The department agents visiting Tuesday found that conditions there had not been rectified, Mackay said Wednesday.

Some of the cleanliness issues have been addressed, but the physical structure of the plant “is not where it needs to be,” he said.

Wheelock did not return calls seeking comment Wednesday.

On July 28, he said he had an attorney involved with the license suspension “because I didn’t think it was right.”

He said then that he would still be able to pick up carcasses and deliver processed meat legally, but would not process it himself. He said he would continue selling legally processed and labeled meats at local farmers markets and events.

Mackey said Wheelock’s license suspension could be lifted if he demonstrates compliance with state regulations. Otherwise, the 90-day suspension ends Oct. 9.

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