Case has potential to stop charreada throughout Illinois
BELVIDERE, Illinois––Charreada promoters suddenly have something more to worry about during the second half of the Illinois charreada season than just Showing Animals Respect & Kindness drones monitoring steer-tailing, electroshocking, horse-flogging, and horse-tripping.
An August 24, 2023 lawsuit brought against Boone County, Illinois, by the Humane Farming Association [HFA] and Showing Animals Respect & Kindness [SHARK], if successful, could stop dead in their tracks the charros responsible for beating up horses and steers in the name of sport and culture practically every spring, summer, and fall weekend, often tearing the skin and hair off the tails of the victim steers.
Temporary use permits required––and must follow the law
This could occur because holding a charreada in Illinois requires the promoters to obtain a temporary use permit from the county in which the charreada is to be held.
Such temporary use permits have until now been routinely issued by Boone County and other Illinois counties with apparently no questions asked, except since mid-2022 by Showing Animals Respect & Kindness.
Charreada has become established in Boone County in particular, where according to U.S. Bureau of the Census data about 13,000 of the 53,500 residents are of Hispanic ethnicity.
The Humane Farming Association and SHARK contend in their lawsuit, filed in the Circuit Court for the 17th Judicial District, headquartered in Belvidere Illinois, the Boone County seat, that the temporary use permits issued for charreadas in Boone have been issued in direct violation of the Boone County Municipal Code Zoning Ordinance.
Charreada promoters ignore charreria rules
As similar ordinances govern the issuance of temporary use permits in all of the other Illinois counties in which the most violent events of charreada are held, a favorable ruling against Boone County could shut down charreada throughout Illinois, and perhaps in other states as well.
Alternatively, charreada promoters could drop steer-tailing from their schedules of events and begin to enforce the “essential rules of charreada” prescribed since 2010 by the Mexican Federation of Charreria, but flagrantly ignored at every one of the more than fifteen Illinois charreadas videotaped since mid-2022 by Showing Animals Respect & Kindness.
Filed by University of Illinois Chicago School of law assistant professor Hub Conley Wouters and Jessica Blome and Lily Rivo of the environmental law firm Greenfire Law, in Berkeley, California, the Humane Farming Association and SHARK lawsuit names as defendants the Boone County board of supervisors, the Boone County building and zoning department, and the Boone County zoning board of appeals.
“Seeks a writ of mandamus”
“This lawsuit seeks a writ of mandamus,” the preamble explains, to compel Boone County to “comply with their mandatory and non-discretionary legal and statutory directives as set forth in the Boone County Municipal Code Zoning Ordinance to protect animals from intentional acts of harm.”
Further, “Plaintiffs also request judicial review of Defendants’ actions and a declaration that Defendants have violated Plaintiffs’ due process rights.”
This has allegedly occurred through the Boone County “pattern and practice of denying Plaintiffs’ attempts to appeal the improper and illegal issuance of temporary use permits issued despite clear violations of the Zoning Ordinance.”
The Boone County zoning ordinance, the Humane Farming Association and SHARK lawsuit explains, “allows for an ‘Animal Show/Rodeo’ as a temporary use.”
Law prohibits permitting events that harm animals
However, the zoning ordinance prohibits “events that cause the intentional harm of an animal or are in violation of the Animal Welfare Act and the Illinois Humane Care for Animals Act.”
Thus, the Humane Farming Association and SHARK contend, “The zoning enforcement officer cannot issue a permit if the event requires the performance of a prohibited act of cruelty, would cause the intentional harm of an animal, or would violate state animal welfare and animal cruelty laws.
“In addition,” the lawsuit charges, “The zoning enforcement officer may also deny a temporary use permit where “the applicant has a demonstrated and documented failure to comply with the regulations of a similar previously granted temporary use.”
Further, the Humane Farming Association and SHARK remind the court that “at any time prior to or during the period for which a [TUP] has been issued,” the zoning enforcement officer has the power “to revoke the permit if it is determined that information is inaccurate or incomplete of which inaccuracy or omission substantially affects the event proposed.”
What charreada is all about
Recount the Humane Farming Association and SHARK, “The charreada is a festive event that is similar to an American rodeo in its variety of competitive equestrian activities. Like the American “rodeo culture,” charrería extends beyond horses and riders to include aspects such as costume, music, and food that bring a uniquely Latino culture to a sport that has its roots in Spain.
“Traditional La Charreada events may include up to ten separate events,” the description continues, “but the core competitive event is El Coleadero,” in which “The mounted charro [competitor on horseback] chases down a bull as it hurtles along the manga [arena]. He must catch the toro [bull] by the tail and drop it to the ground by wrapping its tail around his leg. To score, the charro must be able complete the maneuver within a distance of no more than 60 meters while keeping both his horse and the bull under control. He gains maximum points if the bull falls onto its right side and rolls over onto its back.”
The Illinois charreadas SHARK has videotaped have all used steers, not bulls.
Degloving, whipping, beating
“The sheer force required to perform ‘tailings’ have left many of these cattle with broken horns and legs,” the Humane Farming Association and SHARK lawsuit details.
“In addition to tailings, SHARK investigators took videos and photographs of La Charreada rodeo riders degloving, or ripping the entire skin sheath and skirt/mane off of animals’ tails as the animals are thrown to the ground. In some cases, La Charreada riders wave the tail remnants in the air as a sign of victory.
“With each rodeo ride, Boone County La Charreada riders whip their horses and beat them, causing extreme distress and obvious cruelty to rodeo horses used in the events.
“On several occasions,” the Humane Farming Association and SHARK lawsuit continues, “bulls/steers/calves have suffered broken bones, such that they can barely walk. Nevertheless, rodeo operators force the animals to their feet, so they can chase them down again. SHARK investigators have documented events where individual animals are run as many as 22 times in one day.”
What the Mexican Federation of Charreria says
Contrary to Illinois law, the Humane Farming Association and SHARK contend, “Plaintiffs have never seen any La Charreada event employees rendering aid to wounded or injured animals. Similarly, Plaintiffs have never seen any veterinarians or veterinarian staff on site to assist wounded or injured animals.”
“The Mexican Federation of Charreria,” the Humane Farming Association and SHARK lawsuit explains, “is the official governing body for La Charreada events and publishes its own rules and regulations,” including several “Essential Rules Governing the Proper Care and the Humane Treatment of Animals at Sanctioned Charreadas in the United States of America.”
“Essential Rules” not enforced
The “Essential Rules” of the Mexican Federation of Charreria require that animals “shall be treated humanely and with respect by each and every federated member.”
The Mexican Federation of Charreria “condemn[s] all inhumane treatment of animals and sanctions any charro or charra who intentionally harasses, uses unnecessary roughness and/or abuses an animal before, during or after a Charreada performance.”
However, the Humane Farming Association and SHARK lawsuit summarizes, “In Boone County, Plaintiffs have documented numerous examples of horses being punched and slapped in the head, driven into walls, and excessively spurred and whipped in violation of Charro Rule 1.
“Charro Rule 5 prohibits any La Charreada event operator from using electric prods ‘once the animal is in the holding chute, unless necessary to protect charros or Charreada spectators, or when the animal is stalled in the chute,’” the Humane Farming Association and SHARK lawsuit quotes.
Yet in Boone County, “ Plaintiffs have documented numerous examples of needless excessive and aggressive use of electric prods on cattle in the holding chute in violation of Charro Rule 5,” as documented by video evidence attached as exhibits to the lawsuit, along with video of many other alleged abuses and violations of Mexican Federation of Charreria rules.
Injured animals re-used
Mexican Federation of Charreria Essential Rule 1 also “prohibits any La Charreada event operators from using ‘any animal that is, or appears to be, sick, injured, physically impaired, [or] lame.”
However, “In Boone County,” the lawsuit details, “Plaintiffs have documented numerous examples of cattle being thrown to the ground with such force that their horns, legs, or spines are injured,” yet “are forced to continue to be chased and thrown to the ground by other competitors.”
Cause for the Humane Farming Association and SHARK lawsuit includes that “In Boone County, specifically, SHARK has attended multiple meetings of the Boone County Board to show photographs and videos to elected officials that demonstrate the worst acts of cruelty at these events.
“The Boone County Board historically reacted hostilely to SHARK’s public comments, including saying disparaging things about SHARK’s president,” Steve Hindi, “during public meetings.”
Boone County failed to hold required hearings
That by itself, though, would not be grounds for a lawsuit.
What has furnished grounds for the Humane Farming Association and SHARK lawsuit, in large part, is that Boone County has repeatedly failed to hold required hearings on SHARK appeals of the issuance of temporary use permits for charreadas, in alleged violation of the Boone County zoning ordinance.
The lawsuit describes four such failures occurring between March and June 2023.
As well as seeking “a writ of mandamus compelling Defendants to adhere to the zoning ordinance,” both “regarding the right of an aggrieved party to appeal” and in prohibiting the issuance of temporary use permits “that Defendants know have caused or will cause the intentional harm of animals in violation of Illinois law,” the Humane Farming Association and SHARK lawsuit asks the court to “Award Plaintiffs court costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees.”