Calif. dairy farmer shot over employee dispute

Eric Woomer
Visalia Times-Delta
Jorge Rivera arrested in connection with dairyman's death.

VISALIA, Calif. –A dairyman was shot in the head last week after an alleged employee dispute.

Deputies spent hours looking for the alleged killer, who worked for the victim — Tony Dragt, 56, at the deceased's business, Pete Dragt and Sons Dairy.

Detectives found the suspected shooter — Jorge Rivera, 26.

"We are close-knit in Tulare County," Sheriff Mike Boudreaux said. "We are dedicated to making sure we protect our families... (Dragt) was a very loved and respected member of the community."

The deadly shooting was reported around 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 3 at the Pete Dragt and Sons Dairy on Avenue 352 and Road 112. 

Rivera, detectives said, is familiar with the business. He was hired at the dairy in 2018. He stopped showing up to work in June, Boudreaux said. 

Using nearby surveillance video, detectives believe Rivera drove to the area around 1:30 p.m. in a black Chrysler 200. He asked several people where Dragt was, according to witnesses. 

Ten minutes later, he was seen at a nearby dairy. At 2 p.m., he arrived at Dragt's home.

He eventually found Dragt sitting in a vehicle near the victim's home. Rivera emptied a .45-caliber handgun into the vehicle. He then fired a single 9mm round into Dragt's head.   

Witnesses originally said that they saw the shooter flee the scene in a black car. It's unclear why Rivera was looking for Dragt.

"We do know (Rivera) wanted to kill Dragt," Boudreaux said. 

Dragt's family said they are "confused" by Rivera's violence. They said their father didn't have regular contact with the alleged killer. Dragt spoke to Rivera "maybe once or twice," Boudreaux said. 

Boudreaux said that Rivera had been harassing the family since being fired. 

One theory, deputies and witnesses at the scene said, was that Rivera felt that he was owed money for past work. Boudreaux said investigators will be looking for a motive, but money doesn't appear to be the root of the homicide. 

Detectives worked throughout the night to interview witnesses in the area and gather evidence linking Rivera to the slaying. 

Rivera's cellphone was tracked to a home in Richgrove. Undercover detectives watched the home for more than four hours. 

Around 9:20 p.m., Rivera was spotted leaving the home. Deputies pounced.

Rivera was arrested near County Line Road and interrogated by detectives in Tulare County. While searching his vehicle, detectives found four weapons including an AR-15, shotgun and a pistol. 

The serial numbers on several guns had been filed off, Boudreaux said. There are no guns registered under Rivera's name. Rivera has a prior arrest in Arizona on drug-related allegations, according to detectives.