9-year-old California girl wanted to save her goat from slaughter. Then came the search warrant
The 15-page search warrant and affidavit were very specific about the target Shasta County sheriff’s officials were after.
“The location is a single family residence in a rural residential area,” the warrant, signed at 6:33 p.m. on July 8 by Shasta County Superior Court Judge Monique McKee, read. “The property has a tan colored residence with a brown composite style roof.”
The document was accompanied by ground-level and aerial photos of the property, along with a street address in Napa and the notation that the subject of the search warrant had been “stolen or embezzled.”
Officers were permitted to “utilize breaching equipment to force open doorway(s), entry doors, exit doors, and locked containers in pursuit of their target,” the warrant said, then listed areas that might be searched.
“The residence, including all rooms, attics, basements, and other parts therein, the surrounding grounds and any garages, sheds, storage rooms, and outbuildings of any kind large enough to accommodate a small goat,” the warrant said.
Thus began the legal saga of Cedar the goat, a 7-month-old white Boer goat with chocolate markings framing its face who is now the subject of a federal civil rights lawsuit naming Shasta sheriff’s officials, Shasta County, the Shasta District Fair and other defendants who are accused of involvement in the apparent slaughter of Cedar for a community barbecue.
The details of Cedar’s short life are spelled out in the lawsuit, originally filed in August and amended in March, as well as court documents, emails and other records obtained by The Sacramento Bee through California Public Records Act requests.
The records show the lengths to which officials went to retrieve the goat, turning to law enforcement rather than using a civil court action to decide the matter, say attorneys Ryan Gordon and Vanessa Shakib, who co-founded the non-profit Advancing Law for Animals law firm. They are representing Jessica Long, whose daughter raised Cedar.
“Looking at this case, what we see is county and fair officials improperly used their authority and connections to transform a purely civil dispute into a sham criminal matter,” Shakib said.
Cedar had been purchased in April 2022 by Long for her 9-year-old daughter, who fed and cared for the goat every day, eventually bonding with the animal.
“She loved him as a family pet,” the lawsuit says.
The family entered Cedar into the Shasta District Fair’s junior livestock auction on June 24, 2022, the suit says, an event in which animals entered for auction are part of a “terminal sale” in which they are sold off to be used as meat – “no exceptions,” a fair brochure says.
But before bidding began the Long family changed their minds and tried to back out before Cedar was auctioned off, something fair officials said was not allowed.
Fair officials declined comment when the lawsuit was filed and did not respond to a request for comment Friday. Officials with the California Department of Food and Agriculture, which oversees county fair and exposition districts, also declined to comment, citing pending litigation.
The goat was sold 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 Cedar’s owner, who by then was sobbing in the goat’s pen and telling her mother that she did not want her pet goat slaughtered, the lawsuit says.
That night, the last day of the fair, as Long’s daughter was saying goodbye to Cedar, Long decided to act.
“It was heartbreaking...,” Long wrote in a June 27 email to the Shasta District Fair. “The barn was mostly empty and at the last minute I decided to break the rules and take the goat that night and deal with the consequences later,” her email read.
“I knew when I took it that my next steps were to make it right with the buyer and the fairgrounds.”
Long wrote that she had communicated with Dahle’s office, which did not object to the goat being saved from slaughter.
“I will pay you back for the goat and any other expenses I caused,” Long wrote. “I would like to ask for your support in finding a solution.”
But the solution offered by the fair and the California Department of Food and Agriculture was simply for Long to return Cedar.
“As a mother I am not unsympathetic regarding your daughter and her love for her animal,” Shasta District Fair Chief Executive Officer Melanie Silva emailed Long the next day. “Having said that please understand the fair industry is set up to teach our youth responsibility and for the future generations of ranchers and farmers to learn the process and effort it takes to raise quality meat.
“Making an exception for you will only teach out youth that they do not have to abide by the rules that are set up for all participants.”
Silva added that CDFA had informed her that “for the good of all we have to stick to the State Rules.”
“Unfortunately, this is out of my hands...,” she wrote, adding, “You will need to bring the goat back to the Shasta District Fair immediately.”
Silva sent another email the next day to a CDFA official, informing him that an organizer of the community barbecue “has contacted her lawyers regarding the theft of the goat donated to the bbq.”
By then, the livestock manager at the Shasta District Fair had begun texting Long on her cell phone warning of serious consequences if she did not turn over Cedar, according to copies of the texts provided by Long’s attorney.
“We need to make arrangements to get goat back today,” a June 28 text from B.J. Mcfarlane read. “If not law enforcement is going to be brought in on this.”
“The fair has instructed me to contact you to get the goat to the fairgrounds by 10 am Wednesday June 29,” another text read. “If this does not happen they will be forced to contact authorities.”
Mcfarlane did not respond to a request for comment, but the lawsuit says he also had called Long the day after the goat was taken and threatened to have her charged with a felony count of grand theft if she did not return Cedar.
“The live stock manager has been in contact with me and is threatening to have me arrested for a felony of stealing livestock unless I return the goat for slaughter immediately,” Long wrote in her email to the fair CEO.
Silva also raised the notion of contacting law enforcement, writing in a June 29 email to CDFA, “Should we involve CHP next?”
Written records released by CDFA to The Bee do not reflect how law enforcement came to be involved, but two weeks after the goat was taken Shasta sheriff’s Detective Jeremy Ashbee filed a search warrant affidavit seeking permission to seize it.
The search warrant targeted the Bleating Hearts Farm and Sanctuary, a non-profit rescue group in Napa, and included the detailed description of the property and the goat.
By then, Shasta County sheriff’s Lt. Jerry Fernandez and Detective Jacob Duncan were already on their way to the sanctuary, having stopped in Arbuckle at a truck stop to purchase $95.64 in gas at 6 p.m., according to records released to The Bee by Shasta sheriff’s officials.
That gas purchase was $32.50 more than the fair district would have received as its share of the auction proceeds for Cedar, money the lawsuit says Long offered to repay to the fair.
Public records do not describe what happened once they arrived at Bleating Hearts, and the operators of the sanctuary did not respond to a request for comment.
But the lawsuit filed by Long says the goat was never at Bleating Hearts.
Officials may have believed Cedar was there because of an Instagram post on the Bleating Hearts account urging people to call or email the Shasta District Fair to “pardon” to goat from slaughter.
“HE IS DUE TO BE KILLED TOMORROW,” THE POST READ. “HIS FAMILY IS WILLING TO DO ANYTHING TO KEEP HIM SAFE FOR THEIR DAUGHTER.”
The fair’s CEO, Silva, made an apparent reference to that post in her email to Long demanding return of the goat, writing that “in this era of social media this has been a negative experience for the fairgrounds as this has been all over Facebook and Instagram, not the best way to teach our youth the value of responsibility.”
Instead of Bleating Hearts, Cedar was being kept at an unnamed Sonoma County farm Long had emailed seeking help.
“It was a farm to donate my daughter’s goat to where he would clear land for fire prevention,” Long wrote in her email to the fair. “The farmer has contracts with CalFire, elementary schools, and other important agencies.
“This resonated strongly with us as a beautiful solution since we moved here shortly before the Carr Fire and almost lost our home to it.”
The lawsuit says that after Fernandez and Duncan discovered the goat was not at Bleating Hearts, they made their way to the Sonoma County farm to take Cedar into custody even though they “had no warrant to search and seize Cedar at the Sonoma Farm.”
The sheriff’s office declined to comment on the lawsuit, but in a court filing Thursday denied most of the claims and said no warrant was needed at the Sonoma farm.
“Defendants assert that no warrant was necessary to retrieve Cedar at the Sonoma Farm as they had consent from the property owner to retrieve the goat,” the filing says.
The two deputies and Cedar then drove more than 200 miles back to Shasta County, stopping again in Arbuckle for another $94.95 in gas, records show.
From there, the goat was delivered to unnamed individuals at the fair “for slaughter/destruction” even though the warrant required them to hold the goat for a court hearing to determine its lawful owner, the lawsuit says.
What precisely happened to Cedar – and whether he ended up on plates at the community barbecue – remains unclear, Long’s attorneys say.
“At this time we don’t have that specific information and we can only speculate,” Shakib said. “While it hasn’t been confirmed as a factual matter, we believe the goat Cedar has been killed.”
Despite that, Cedar’s memory lives on in the form of an online petition “to let the Shasta Fair Association and the Shasta County Sheriff’s deputies reportedly involved in this case know that you denounce the cruel slaughter of Cedar and that you’d like to see a more compassionate response in any similar situations.”
By late March, the petition reported collecting 35,796 signatures.
The lawsuit, which asks for actual, general and punitive damages, also seeks an order preventing Mcfarlane, Silva or others from discriminating against the girl’s “free expression or viewpoint with respect to livestock in future livestock activities.”
And it asks that Long’s daughter have the ability to participate in future auctions at the fair, but with a clear understanding of her rights to “disaffirm any contract or obligation to sell any livestock she owns through such an auction.”