EXCLUSIVE: New developments in Harris Ranch arson case

Saturday, November 8, 2014
EXCLUSIVE: New developments in Harris Ranch arson case
For the first time in three years, a development in the arson case at Harris Ranch.

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- For the first time in three years, a development in the arson case at Harris Ranch. Action News has exclusive details about where the investigation has led and the target who's already in jail.

"This is a major breakthrough in the case," said ABC30 legal analyst Tony Capozzi.

A series of fires caused $2.5 million in damage at Harris Ranch in January 2012. Anonymous animal rights activists took credit for the attack, but the investigation seemed to stall.

Widespread destruction hit the ranch feed lot in the early hours.Fourteen cattle trucks burned in a coordinated attack.

Now, almost three years later, nobody's been arrested and Fresno County sheriff's detectives refuse to discuss the case. But we dug up evidence that they're still working the case and following leads.

"They're still investigating," said Capozzi. "They haven't stopped. That's encouraging."

Court documents show investigators served a search warrant in Glendora just two weeks ago. The target is well-known animal rights activist Kevin Olliff Johnson. He's in jail in Illinois right now, accused of setting free about 2,000 minks.

According to the affidavit, an unknown cutting tool was used to break a security fence at Harris Ranch. The main item seized in Southern California was an 18-inch pair of black and gray Stanley bolt cutters. Capozzi calls it a major development.

"Finding those bolt cutters and examining those and tying those into the fence may be the big breakthrough in the case and may result in some indictments," he said.

Dr. Jerry Vlasak from the North American Animal Liberation Press Office -- which released the anonymous statement after the attack -- told Action News the search warrant is probably nothing more than a fishing expedition. He said Johnson is on the radar because of the Illinois case, so he's the only thing detectives have to investigate right now.

But detectives can analyze bolt cutters in much the same way they examine the striations on bullets to match a gun to the shots it fired.

"When they cut some wire with it they'll see if those marks are left in the wire," Capozzi said. "They'll then go to the wire or the fence that was cut at Harris Ranch and make a determination if that matches up. If it does, that's strong circumstantial evidence."

A Harris Ranch spokesperson said the attack ultimately had no effect on the business, which produces about 150 million pounds of beef every year. Animal rights activists want to expose its practices. Investigators may expose an arsonist among them.