Minn. Boy's Chicken Meets With Fowl Play

By Brett Snider, Esq. on September 02, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

When Ashley Turnbull gave her five-year-old son, Phoenix, baby chickens and ducks for his birthday earlier this year, she wasn't aware they were against the law. But that was no reason for Police Chief Trevor Berger to come onto her property and decapitate a small red hen with a shovel, she said.

The chief of police for Atwater, Minnesota said he was merely enforcing the city's ordinance prohibiting keeping fowl. He told the West Central Tribune he was responding to neighbors' complaints, including one that the chickens were on the loose, which led him to Turnbull's house on that fateful August 16 day. No one disputes that Berger told Turnbull she had until August 7 to get rid of her three chickens and two ducks.

Was this avian atrocity allowable by law?

Chicken Run

When asked why he didn't use his gun to kill the chicken, Berger said there were children playing nearby, so of course he used a shovel to chase the chicken around the yard for 15 minutes before beating it to death. Forum News Service, however, reported that at least he tried to chase it back into its pen and only gave it the Ned Stark treatment when the other chickens and ducks were about to escape.

Running Afoul of Due Process?

Turnbull filed a complaint with the police department and could possibly have grounds for a lawsuit; she was deprived of "property" -- a chicken -- without due process of law. Berger's summary execution of the little red hen probably doesn't qualify, and according to Turnbull, she received only a verbal warning, not a written citation. Further complicating matters was the fact that the city council was actually considering altering the ordinance to allow keeping chickens.

Atwater's city ordinances aren't available online, so it's not clearly what ordinance, specifically, Turnbull violated. It's fairly common for most cities to have ordinances prohibiting keeping farm animals, like chickens, in city limits. But a sudden rise in home agriculture has led to people not just keeping bees, but also livestock, in their backyards. Minneapolis/St. Paul and other nearby suburbs have already allowed backyard chicken-keeping.

-- FindLaw Blog Writer Mark Wilson, Esq., contributed to this post.

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