“Independent investigation” underway
SAN RAFAEL, California––“An independent investigation” of allegations issued by at least half a dozen In Defense of Animals staff and former staff and board members against the administration of board president Marilyn Kroplick, “has been approved by IDA’s Board of Directors and is currently being launched,” In Defense of Animals communications director Fleur Dawes confirmed to ANIMALS 24-7 on August 18, 2020.
Dawes, interestingly enough, replied to anticipated questions before ANIMALS 24-7 had the opportunity to decide what to ask.
Dawes or other In Defense of Animals personnel apparently intercepted an August 16, 2020 ANIMALS 24-7 email to suspended In Defense of Animals campaign director Matthew Hamity, an attorney, asking whether a copy of an email that Hamity sent to In Defense of Animals staff and board members on August 4, 2020 could be quoted on the record, and asking Hamity if there had been any subsequent developments in response to his August 4 email.
ANIMALS 24-7 had obtained the Hamity email, and several others from In Defense of Animals staff complaining about various aspects of the Kroplick administration, after reporting about the August 11, 2020 selection of U.S. Senator and former California state attorney general Kamala Harris as running mate to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.
Former In Defense of Animals board member Lisa R. Hyland had in 2012 filed an extensive complaint against Kroplick with Harris’ office, amplified in 2013 by former In Defense of Animals executive director Joe Haptas.
Harris and California deputy attorney general Scott Chan apparently investigated the complaint, but took no public action in response to it.
As Harris and Chan took no public action, and the issues raised by Hyland and Haptas appeared to be dormant, ANIMALS 24-7 did not discuss them in our August 12, 2020 article Kamala Harris: long record on animal issues, including pit bull attacks.
Third parties, however, external to In Defense of Animals, soon informed ANIMALS 24-7 that our seven-year-old reportage about the Hyland and Haptas complaints, mentioning Harris, had been raised in a new set of allegations against Kroplick brought by personnel hired since the 2012-2013 dispute.
Kroplick, 74, a child and geriatric psychiatrist, has headed In Defense of Animals since succeeding founder Elliot Katz, 86, as board president in November 2011.
Kroplick, according to online listings of available psychiatric consultants, has apparently continued her psychiatry practice in Calabasas, California, nearly 400 miles south, concurrent with holding her In Defense of Animals position.
In Defense of Animals, a national advocacy organization claiming about 250,000 donors, an annual budget of circa $3.3 million, and about $5.5 million in assets, had four executive directors in as many years during the 2009-2013 time frame, coinciding with Katz’ retirement.
Katz, a veterinarian, founded In Defense of Animals in 1983 as Californians for Responsible Research, changing the name a year later.
According to Fleur Dawes, In Defense of Animals “was recently the subject of a series of meritless complaints that appears to have been calculated to disrupt the organization and remove Dr. Marilyn Kroplick as the executive director,” a title Kroplick currently holds along with that of board president.
“These attempts failed,” Dawes told ANIMALS 24-7, “but many questions remain based upon a series of complaints made by several past and present employees.
“Many respected senior female members of staff who have years of dedicated service to animals,” Dawes continued, “were targeted by accusations that are false, years old, intentionally misleading, filled with obvious errors and inaccuracies, taken out of context, and potentially libelous, by a small number of employees who failed to use available feedback channels.”
An investigation of the allegations, nonetheless, “is being conducted by an independent attorney retained by the board of directors,” Dawes said, “and we anticipate that interviews will begin shortly. After the investigation is completed, the results will be presented to the board of directors, and I will share information with you as soon as this process is completed.”
Hamity “on administrative leave”
Dawes also forwarded an email from Kroplick dated August 13, 2020, in which she informed In Defense of Animals staff and board that, “Matthew Hamity has been placed on administrative leave, during which he has been relieved of any work-related responsibilities.
“Within the last few weeks,” Kroplick acknowledged, “you may have received emails concerning allegations of wrongdoing directed against IDA staff and leadership. IDA takes all complaints seriously, and the board of directors is in the process of hiring an independent investigator to address these issues.”
The Kroplick email further advised In Defense of Animals personnel that they “remain temporarily relieved of social media moderation, which is being handled by the communications team.”
So what was, and is, the investigation all about?
Chronologically, the event precipitating the rest may have been the July 28, 2020 suicide of Shimon Shuchat, 22, in New York City.
Shuchat, whom friends said had long suffered from chronic depression, had only six days earlier been introduced in an In Defense of Animals media release as lead contact for Respect for Fish Day.
This event, involving as many as 250 animal advocacy and vegan/vegetarian organizations, was celebrated on August 1, 2020.
Shuchat was repeatedly mentioned to ANIMALS 24-7 by other In Defense of Animals personnel as “one of the whistleblowers,” and was included as a cc. on emails among the whistleblowers for at least seven days after his death.
Next, among the documentation obtained by ANIMALS 24-7, came an email from one “David Amory,” dated July 31, 2020. Unlike any of the other “whistleblower” correspondence seen by ANIMALS 24-7, the “David Amory” email did not come from an In Defense of Animals account and did not include a visible cc. list.
Opened “David Amory,” in language suggesting he is, or was recently, an In Defense of Animals staff member, “We are writing this letter to document and describe the myriad ways in which our current President and CEO, Dr. Marilyn Kroplick, has violated her duty to our organization, our staff, our donors, and the animals.
“David Amory” continued, “Over a number of years we have observed a pattern of unprofessional behavior by Marilyn,” that has created, and continues to create, a risk to our reputation as well as a risk of legal liability to our organization. We have been fearful to speak out for quite some time, but we can no longer remain silent in good conscience.”
Reason for skepticism
Who is “David Amory”? No other “whistleblower” acknowledged having any idea who “David Amory” is to ANIMALS 24-7. At least one “whistleblower” believed “David Amory” to be a pseudonym.
There are in fact at least two men named David Amory in the U.S., both of whom are physicians, distantly related to Fund for Animals founder Cleveland Amory (1917-1998), but neither of whom has ever had any visible association with In Defense of Animals, or, for that matter, animal advocacy in any form.
ANIMALS 24-7 found reason for skepticism that “David Amory” did in truth have recent inside knowledge of goings on at In Defense of Animals.
The “Amory” allegations began with a description of the botched euthanasia of an injured pig named Mary Grace in 2016 at the Hope Animal Sanctuary, operated by In Defense of Animals in Grenada, Mississippi. The method used, gunshot at close range, is the method recommended for pigs by the American Veterinary Medical Association Guidelines for Euthanasia, but the AVMA-recommended technique was apparently not followed.
“Amory” mentioned as well that a second pig had allegedly been kicked to death by a horse.
“Amory” also charged that, “Marilyn has used, and continues to use IDA funds to hire assistants to work in her personal home in Malibu, where tasks included cooking for Marilyn and her boyfriend, providing ‘clutter therapy,’ teaching her yoga, and scrubbing her toilets.”
This, while easily claimed, would be difficult for a person working at In Defense of Animals’ headquarters in San Rafael to affirm from direct knowledge.
Racist postings & South Korea
What could be verified, entirely from external observation, were allegedly racist postings by a variety of individuals, mostly anonymous and mostly not appearing to originate with In Defense of Animals, to In Defense of Animals pages on Facebook.
Also externally verifiable is that In Defense of Animals has done fundraising for more than 20 years, beginning long before Kroplick’s tenure, for a purported campaign against the South Korean dog meat industry which has had almost no visible presence in South Korea.
This campaign was subject of a public dispute between In Defense of Animals and at least two Korean animal advocacy organizations before 2000.
Current In Defense of Animals farmed animals campaign manager Nadia Schilling has testified on video, however, that she was sent alone to photograph the notorious Moran dog meat market near Seoul, South Korea. This would have been at some point before the dog meat market was closed in May 2017.
At least two investigative teams were physically rousted from the Moran dog meat market before ANIMALS 24-7 provided security for the four-member, four-organization team that finally obtained photographic documentation of the entire site in 2001.
The “David Amory” email next offered links to the coverage of the Hyland and Haptas allegations of 2012-2013, also externally accessible information.
“David Amory” concluded, “If this matter cannot be resolved internally by appointing a new president, we are ready to take this information to the media. We prefer not to do this to preserve IDA’s reputation and its future. For this very reason, today IDA’s board was given an opportunity to review this evidence and vote in a new leader.”
While “David Amory” may be taking “this information to the media,” ANIMALS 24-7 has had no communication from this individual, to our knowledge, and has received no response to an email of inquiry sent to the address “David Amory” used.
Kroplick responded to “David Amory” a little over 12 hours after the “David Amory” email was sent.
“New board member”
“IDA has a new board member,” Kroplick said in an email to staff, “who is sadly misinformed and unaware of the amazing and meaningful work we all do here. Many of the claims in this email stem from disgruntled ex-employees who have previously sued the organization. The majority of the claims are fabricated, twisted or have already been addressed or resolved where needed.
“The allegation from 2016 about two pigs being injured and not receiving veterinary treatment are new information to me and many other members of staff,” Kroplick added. “ I will be investigating this.”
On August 2, 2020, Kroplick in a follow-up email told In Defense of Animals staff that “If you have an issue with your work, my door is open to you.”
That brought forth the Matthew Hamity email of August 4, 2020.
Hamity, who included Kroplick among 30 cc. recipients, mentioned that as well as being an attorney himself, he had sought the advice of another attorney who specializes in “whistleblower” law.
Hamity described several incidents, some apparently detailed in previous “whistleblower” correspondence that ANIMALS 24-7 did not obtain, in which he believed Kroplick made remarks to staff about topics including pregnancy, abortion, mental health, racial issues, and the receipt and use of donated funds which might potentially be legally actionable.
Bridgeman & Anderson
Laura Bridgeman, currently In Defense of Animals cetacean project director and acting elephant campaign director, on August 5, 2020 shared with the same cc. list, again including Kroplick, 55 examples of flagrantly racist comments on In Defense of Animals postings to Facebook which she said staff had not promptly flagged and removed, despite frequent warnings from Bridgeman and others.
In Defense of Animals’ elephant campaign coordinator Will Anderson, of Seattle, a veteran of more than 30 years in animal advocacy and nonprofit management, on August 7, 2020 offered the most detailed critique to the cc. list of any of the “whistleblowers,” again including Kroplick.
Anderson focused on fiscal procedures and accounting issues. But Anderson also mentioned alleged “racist and race-baiting posts,” including by two senior In Defense of Animals female employees on their personal Facebook pages.
Two board members removed
On August 10, 2020, In Defense of Animals board members Robert Ingersoll and Clifton Roberts, who had nothing to do, so far as ANIMALS 24-7 has discovered, with any of the issues mentioned by the “whistleblowers,” were removed from the board.
Ingersoll is a primatologist, known especially for his decades of work with and on behalf of the signing chimpanzee Nim Chimpsky, recounted in Project Nim, an award-winning 2011 film biography of Nim Chimpsky directed by James Marsh.
Roberts, whose mother is Korean-American and whose father is African-American, is a longtime vegan activist who was the U.S. Presidential nominee for the Humane Party in both 2016 and 2020. In between, Roberts ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate.
Ingersoll told ANIMALS 24-7 that he believes he and Roberts were illegally removed from the board, and are in truth “the only legal board members,” according to the In Defense of Animals bylaws. This, however, would have to be determined by a judge, ruling on a lawsuit.
Whether such a lawsuit will be brought will likely depend on the potential plaintiffs’ resources, determination, and assessment of their possible case in light of whatever the In Defense of Animals internal investigation finds.