Too late for charges after Sheriff’s Department probes ‘sickening’ animal cruelty case

Too late for charges after Sheriff’s Department probes ‘sickening’ animal cruelty case

Skeletal remains of eight horses found abandoned on Proctor property

The Crittenden County Sheriffs Department investigated one of the most horrific cases of animal neglect in its files. The New Year’s weekend did not ring in bright as a report from a citizen of skeletal remains of several horses was called in Friday, Dec. 30, 2016. Investigators arrived on the scene at 534 Foster Rd., in the Proctor area, and after properly obtaining a search warrant discovered eight dead horses that had been locked in their stalls and then locked again inside the barn. The discovery lead to an intensive three day crime scene investigation including a wide array of outside experts and a bitter end.

The property had been abandoned and was overgrown with vegetation.

Trees had actually grown up in the entrance to the barn blocking the main horse gate. Photos were taken of the scene and shown to the State of Arkansas Livestock and Poultry Commission which responded on site to collect evidence for testing to confirm the apparent deaths by starvation. Femur samples were sent to the “world famous” University of Tennessee Body Farm experts.

Specially trained officers with the sheriff department carefully cataloged and boxed the horse remains.

The County extension service also took samples from the vegetation blocking the barn entrance and gave a preliminary estimate of ten year old trees.

Sheriff Mike Allen described a great barn that ultimately became a tomb for the horses.

“It appeared the horses had been locked into the barn,” said Allen. “At one time it was a pretty nice facility. It had a concrete floor, rubber mats and sawdust.”

Next investigators surveyed satellite imagery of the property which confirmed the overgrowth beginning in 2006 and by 2009 the barn was completely covered up and not visible from aerial view photos. Utility shut off records confirmed the dates the property was abandoned.

Despite five days of hard work investigating the scene and tracking down the property owner, the investigation came to an abrupt and startling end Tuesday morning when the Prosecuting Attorney’s Coordinators office opened after the holiday and reviewed the case. Because of the age of the case prosecutors told the sheriff the statute of limitations had expired. According to prosecutors, this kind of aggravated animal cruelty became a class D felony in July 2009. Before that cruelty to household pets and horses was a Class A misdemeanor. The sheriffs office was unable to pursue charges.

“That was disheartening after four days of hard work on New Year’s weekend, especially for a bunch of animal lovers like us,” said Sheriff Mike Allen in an interview Tuesday afternoon.

The sheriff touted the departments expertise pointing to special advanced training in animal investigations.

“We have an expert in animal cruelty,” said Allen.

“We are thankful for the training paid for by the Crittenden County Humane Society. He had extensive training in Florida and he was on the scene and boxed everything for extra testing.”

Investigators found the suspect, the property owner, at a West Memphis residence but remains unsatisfied because of the age of the case.

“It appears at this time that because of the law and the statute of limitations we will not be able to prosecute anyone for this offense,” said Allen. “It’s sickening that the person responsible for the horses being locked into the barn will not be charged. She refused to make a statement.” Allen passed out kudos for those involved in the investigation.

“Investigators took this case and went way above and beyond diligently working it,” said the sheriff. “They built a fantastic evidentiary case that comes to naught. It leaves a bad taste in their mouths.”

Allen concluded with thanks for each of the outside organizations that participated in the investigation.

By John Rech