Tarrant County, Texas


What Happened, What's Happening

"He [Dr. Stephen Vinson] was hitting birds on their heads and bodies. Wounds were opening up and blood spurting out, both in the heads and bodies. Brain matter was protruding from the skulls while the birds were still conscious and birds were on the ground jerking and suffering in pain. . . . [H]e could see the results as he continued through 22 birds."
Donald D. Feare, Attorney, State v. Vinson: Animal Cruelty
illustration by Jazelle Lieske

On June 27, 1997, two medical doctors beat to death 22 penned emus with aluminum baseball bats in Colleyville, TX in Tarrant County. Dr. Stephen Vinson and his brother Russell got mad because they couldn't make money from the emus and couldn't load them in the truck. The last bird to die was described by the humane investigator as vomiting blood, with a blood-covered face, staggering around until the bird couldn't rise anymore. Vinson told the investigator "he didn't feel like he had done anything wrong" (Reuter June 28).

The Tarrant County District Attorney's office refused to prosecute. The attorney who made the decision told UPC president Karen Davis there was no proof the men's conduct was motivated by cruelty as defined by the state anti-cruelty law, adding that breeders all over Texas are beating their emus to death. (All those potential cruelty complaints involving "livestock.")

The Humane Society of North Texas seized 87 more emus, alive, from the 10-acre property.

Successful Action

Linda Yarbrough of the Animal Liberation League, in Arlington, TX, located a temporary shelter for the seized emus while arranging to transport 80 of the birds to The Humane Farming Association (HFA) Refuge in San Rafael, California. The birds were transported in air-conditioned trailers in three separate trips in August. They arrived in good spirits and are now living on a 20-acre piece of fenced land. HFA told UPC, "Our policy is never to turn away animals seized in an animal cruelty case. We were happy to help."

What Can I Do?

  • It cost $7,000.00 to transport the emus from Texas to California. If you would like to make a donation to help, please send it to Linda Yarbrough, Animal Liberation League, 1300 W. 2nd St. Arlington TX 76013. ph: 817-640-2493.

  • If you would like to help The Humane Farming Association with a donation to assist in the care of the emus or to discuss adoption of two or more birds, please contact Jill Mountjoy at 415-485-1495, or write to her c/o The Humane Farming Association, PO Box 3577, San Rafael CA 94912-8902.

Current Legal Action for the Twenty-Two Murdered Emus

Texas Penal Code 42.09 (Cruelty to Animals):
A person commits an offense if s/he intentionally or knowingly tortures . . . an animal. "Vinson admittedly intended to engage in the conduct of beating animals. . . . Vinson was clearly aware of the nature of his conduct by merely observing what the witness and the police officer observed; animals slinging blood, suffering seizures, blood running out of their nose, eyes and mouths, jerking around on the ground and unable to stand. The circumstances existed and Dr. Vinson was standing in the middle of the proof but elected to ignore the consequences of his actions."
– Donald D. Feare, State v. Vinson: Animal Cruelty

Following the court's refusal to recommend prosecution of Stephen Vinson, Tarrant County attorney Don Feare submitted the case to the Tarrant County Grand Juries for consideration on August 27th. Announcement of whether they will hear the evidence comes within a 90-day term. Texas Establishment for Animal Rights staged a protest outside the County Jail the day the Grand Juries were petitioned.

United Poultry Concerns has been active in this case from the beginning. Throughout July, we wrote letters to the courts and others urging permanent confiscation and relocation of the 80 living emus, and prosecution of the Vinsons. UPC president Karen Davis published a letter in the Fort Worth Star-Tribune denouncing the District Attorney's office for telling Texans they may legally beat their helpless birds to death. UPC was instrumental in getting many animal groups to send letters to Don Feare, to show the Grand Juries he spoke for many people in demanding prosecution of the Vinsons.