Investigations find North Stonington hog deaths appear to be accident

North Stonington - Investigations into the June deaths of two mulefoot hogs on Firefly Farms have been closed, with two reports concluding that they appeared to be accidental.

Resident State Trooper Thomas Fabian and state Animal Control Officer Todd Curry's investigation reports suggest a lack of physical evidence. Both consulted North Stonington resident Fred Launer, a 25-year veteran of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and a professor of animal science at the University of Rhode Island.

According to the reports, Launer said the pigs, which were found dead the morning of June 29 by farm manager Dugan Tillman-Brown, were likely spooked by a wild animal, causing them to run into their electric fence and become entangled. Curry cited Launer's suggestion that the 15,000-volt electric fence could have "easily caused heart failure."

By the time Fabian arrived that Saturday, nearly eight hours had passed since Tillman-Brown had discovered the carcasses and called police. Troopers were busy earlier in the day responding to a boating accident on Wyassup Lake. At that point, Tillman-Brown had already removed the dead animals, concerned that the others would start eating them.

Fabian wrote that he was only able to see "portions of their bodies" because they were "covered in compost debris" and because "the guts began to burst open." He did not see any signs of physical trauma save for a "slight mark" around one of the pigs' necks.

Fabian's report said the animals were "likely electrocuted to death from a continual and repeated electrical current" and closed the case with no criminal aspect.

Curry's report said there was no conclusive physical or photographic evidence that would imply the animals were attacked or killed, but that they likely were electrocuted or strangled by the wire fence.

"This officer cannot come to any single tenable conclusion on why or what caused the pigs to initially come in contact with the fence," Curry wrote, adding that based on Tillman-Brown's observations, photographs and the physical evidence, "the wire barrier was key component to the demise of the animals."

The case was closed with the state Animal Control Division due to lack of physical evidence and investigatory leads pending new information that would warrant its reopening.

Tillman-Brown has said that Saturday morning, he found the hogs with their front legs immobilized in the fence and with blood coming out of their noses and mouths, but no burns.

Though Fabian's report quoted Tillman-Brown as saying it was "quite possible" that the pigs had been spooked by a wild animal, Tillman-Brown maintains that the hogs' deaths are the latest in a spate of incidents on the farm coinciding with a controversial land dispute over the Button Road property, including vandalism and herds of animals being let out of their pens.

Though Fabian references this allegation in his report, saying another resident state trooper has assisted with other "recent suspicious incidents," First Selectman Nicholas Mullane has said that none of these incidents has been resolved.

Tillman-Brown said he understands why Curry and Fabian came to their conclusions but said he is not satisfied.

"They had a devil of a time finding evidence inside a field that has been trampled by swine," he said.

Tillman-Brown said he will still offer a $3,125 donation-funded reward to anyone who can provide information that leads to an arrest and conviction.

a.isaacs@theday.com

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