Whether it includes the dead pigeon nailed to the threshold or the pile of rotting chicken carcasses that had been bled out is unclear, but New Jersey authorities say a man who claims to be a Santeria doctor kept at least 22 farm animals, including grazing goats, in his rented row house.
“I help people with cancer, ladies that not pregnant, people with psoriasis,” renter Emilio Otero said, according to NBC News. Santeria is a religion developed in Cuba that revolves around sacrificing animals for food. “It’s legal, legally [in] the United States... you respect the religion,” he said.
The Jersey City row house is owned by active-duty Navy sailor Alyza Brevard-Rodriguez, a new mother who has been featured in local media for her Sw3at Sauna business. Brevard-Rodriguez said she could not evict Otero—who has not been arrested or charged with a crime—due to a moratorium on evictions during the coronavirus pandemic.
Brevard-Rodriguez called authorities after she returned from active duty in the Middle East to the “nightmare” that only became more grisly as she started to suspect that goats, pigeons, and chickens were regularly sacrificed in her row home as part of Otero’s ritualistic practices. Otero denied to NBC that he sacrificed the animals as part of his Santeria practice.
Jersey City Division of Environmental Health told NBC that keeping farm animals and livestock inside the city limits is illegal and that Otero might yet be arrested and charged. “As the investigation goes on, [Otero] could face per count—not sure how many counts—but per count issued by my inspectors it could be $2,000 and 90 days in jail,” officer H. James Boor said.
Boor spoke as live animals were carried to waiting vans outside the home and the dead ones were taken out to rendering trucks, including what the officer described as “about four or five dead chicken carcasses, their throats slashed and they were left in a pile.”
The landlord said Otero had not paid rent since May and she still cannot evict him due to a COVID-19 ban on evictions. “I come from humble beginnings. I served this country, I purchased this house,” she told NBC. “I live on the same block and I wanted to get an investment property, and this is what this has turned into.”