FLOCK Case Dismissed on Technicality
In a heart wrenching turn of events, the animal cruelty case against FLOCK (For the Love of Cats and Kittens), a 501c3 non-profit in Pahrump, Nevada, was dismissed on a technicality yesterday. FLOCK was charged with one of the worst cases of institutional animal hoarding ever in the United States.
Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, who rescued 200 of the 800 cats and kittens in the "Great Kitty Rescue," reported on the disappointment:
Disappointing Day In Court
February 11, 2010, 3:43PM MT
By Cathy Scott, Best Friends staff writer
Citing a technicality, judge dismisses FLOCK case.
For the 800 cats of rural Nevada who Nye County officials said were forced to live grim lives behind a 12-foot fence, exposed to the elements their day in court will have to wait.
With one strike of his gavel and the words, Case dismissed, Judge Kent Jasperson of Pahrump Justice Court, on February 11, tossed out misdemeanor charges of neglect against FLOCK For the Love of Cats and Kittens for failure to provide food, water and medical care.
After the decision was handed down, a tearful prosecutor, Nye County Deputy District Attorney Robert Bettinger, emerged from the courtroom sad but determined.
It is not over, Bettinger told a group of Best Friends volunteers and staffers gathered outside the courthouse.We will appeal.
And, he added, having poured his heart into the case for the right of the animals to be heard, I can go home tonight and look myself in the mirror.
No one appeared prepared for the decision, including Bettinger, who had 15 witnesses lined up and prepared to testify on behalf of the cats who could not speak for themselves. Three of those witnesses were Best Friends animal behavior consultant Sherry Woodard, Dogtown caregiver Mckenzie Garcia, and veterinarian Dr. Frank McMillan. Woodard headed the months-long operation of caring for the cats on the compound in what came to be known as the Great Kitty Rescue. Most were adopted out, a few reunited, and the remaining about 200 were taken to the Best Friends sanctuary.
Despite the courts decision, Woodard said it was an important case and one that needed to move forward. We all need to keep hope for the future, she said.
Garcia agreed. It was definitely good to see it come to court, she said, because after all this time these cats are still having medical problems.
If there was any consolation in the judges decision, McMillan said, Its a very faint silver lining. Its really a shame. These cats, if they could understand, would be disappointed that there was no justice for them.
Gregory Castle, CEO of Best Friends, expressed his dismay as well.
The neglect that the 800 cats in this case suffered was one of the worst cases of institutional animal hoarding ever in the United States, Castle said. Best Friends Animal Society is determined that the 800 cats of The Great Kitty Rescue will have justice. We share in the heartache of Nye County Deputy District Attorney Robert Bettinger. We promise the hundreds of dedicated volunteers, and Best Friends staff, who cared for these cats, both in the Nevada desert and here at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary and the families that opened their hearts and adopted the special cats who survived this horror that we will give Mr. Bettinger all of our support in his efforts as he appeals this decision.
Judge Jasperson placed the blame squarely on Bettingers shoulders. In the end, the judge decided a technicality as his basis toward dismissing the case because of an amendment filed the evening before the trial was to begin. Bettinger had originally filed the case in June 2008, within the one-year statute of limitations. In that original complaint, the defendants were listed as Does and Roes. Jasperson said that filing an amendment naming 11 members of FLOCK as defendants should have been done sooner.
Bettinger countered that it had taken that long roughly two-and-a-half years since the allegations surfaced in June 2007 to determine who was culpable for the neglect. This is a case that has significant importance, Bettinger argued. You can say, Yeah, this is over a bunch of cats, but how those cats were treated and how they were neglected leads to a point in society of their importance.
Conversely, defense attorney Tom Gibson said his clients have rights, too. Adding these names after the statute of limitations has run violates their rights, he told the court.
At the end of the hour-long hearing inside the tiny courthouse, the judge had the last word. Theres only one thing I see in this [case] file, Jasperson told Bettinger. These animals that were allegedly mistreated, malnourished and neglected will never be able to be heard.
Bettinger has 30 days to file his appeal, which he said hed immediately begin work on. We have a duty to the cats, he said.
Read more about the Great Kitty Rescue.
Today, about 100 Pahrump cats are available for adoption. Click here to read more about them.
What You Can Do:
One of the witnesses left the following comment on the Best Friends site about the best way for animal lovers to express their outrage with the way the case was handled:
Send letters to the District Attorney, Robert Beckett, he is responsible for his office "losing", "suppressing" this case until a few weeks ago when Mr. Bettinger received the files, he and his investigator have worked hard in the short time since they received the case. In court yesterday, the judge mentioned that the original court date was in August 2009, 6 months ago; someone on Mr. Beckett's staff kept the case quietly languishing - not Mr. Bettinger who just received it recently. Since Mr. Beckett heads the DA's office for Nye County, he is ultimately responsible for this being botched, paving the way for it to be possible for the case to be dismissed on a technical issue.
Mr. Robert Beckett
District Attorney, Nye County
1520 E Basin Ave
Pahrump, NV 89060
Ph: (775) 751-7080
Fax: (775) 727-5234
Judge Jasperson's email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
There is also an online petition being circulated, but a good old-fashioned letter is likely to get more attention. Those in the know say that the letters are being read.
I've had several requests for a sample letter. I took the following from the talking points here, where there are extensive descriptions of the conditions at FLOCK.
Mr. Robert Beckett
District Attorney, Nye County
1520 E Basin Ave
Pahrump, NV 89060
Dear Mr Beckett,
I was appalled to learn that charges against FLOCK have been dismissed due to a technicality which resulted from sloppy paperwork on the part of the District Attorney's office.
The FLOCK Pahrump facility was a warehouse for institutionalized animal cruelty on a scale not seen previously in this country. The cats had virtually no protection from Nevada's brutal summer temperatures and bitterly cold winters. Most had no indoor access or any way to get away from strong desert winds, rainstorms or snow. Rescuers who were on site in the summer of 2007 found dead and dying cats, starving and dehydrated cats, ill and seriously injured cats with open wounds, including eyes hanging out of their sockets. All were covered with flies and maggots. The cats were not separated; there was no mechanism for disease control.
The site was littered with dead, dying and diseased cats. Some were crowded under the few bushes on the lot or into the few buildings to avoid the 110 degree plus temperatures every day though most found no relief. The sand burned their feet. There was no water. It was impossible to walk without stepping on feces or vomit. There were flies and maggots everywhere. The place was filthy beyond description.
Sheri Allen, the president until May 2007, maintained that the facility was in "great condition" when she left.
When sheriff's deputies went to Allen's house to interview her about the situation at FLOCK, they found 125 cats living in filth, sick and starving. One investigator described that there were feces on every surface of Allen's house. One rescuer said, "At first glance you can tell that the majority of these cats are extremely sick, extremely emaciated and they are covered in excretions from every orifice. They are in visibly horrendous condition. The stench of rotting flesh, urine and feces is overpowering."
Your office filed a complaint charging Sheri Allen with 13 counts of animal cruelty in violation of Nevada's animal cruelty law, NRS 574.100, and Allen eventually pleaded guilty to one count. She was not ordered to stay away from animals, and Allen did not pay for any of the cost of the veterinary and other care of the animals after they were forfeited. She did not offer to pay anything; nor was she ordered to do so.
Before charges were filed for animal neglect, FLOCK Board members, including Renee Lyss, Leon Kind and Maggie Ward insisted that FLOCK would resume operation of its "sanctuary" in Nye County. Ward and Board members appeared at the facility at various times while it was under county control and rescuers were caring for the cats. They intimidated the rescuers and worried them with threats of letting the cats out or harming them in some way. Guards were posted to protect the facility at night. At that time on its website and in newsletters issued to its members, FLOCK claimed that it was working to care for the cats. FLOCK continued to solicit donations for its rescue and care of the cats. One presumes that now that charges have been dropped, they will resume operations and the welfare of Nye County cats will be imperiled.
I presume that you are fully aware of the horrific conditions encountered by rescuers at FLOCK. As such, I cannot imagine how you allowed the case to flounder such that it was ultimately dismissed on a technicality. District Attorney Robert Bettinger can certainly be commended for working tirelessly to prosecute the case, despite having so little time to prepare for it, but you should hang your head in shame for not aggressively pursuing this case and prosecuting it to the fullest extent of the law. You're as guilty of animal cruelty as Sheri Allen, Renee Lyss, Leon Kind, Maggie Ward and rest of the FLOCK crew.
I respectfully request that you conduct an investigation into how the case was allowed to languish in your office, and who was responsible for this reprehensible oversight. Further, I ask that you devote all resources necessary to winning the appeal and seeking justice for the 800 cats who have no voice to describe the horrors they suffered at the hands of FLOCK.