Part III: Dassinger Ranch prosecution a test case for animal rights extremists

The Deputy made comments about dead animals on the property. Gary’s daughter replied that if they had actually done an investigation and asked her dad what happened, he could have told them the circumstances. None of the animals starved to death, as Dr. Brummond implied.  Gary’s daughter also told him about ranch life and the fact that it was winter when the animals died. In addition to the fact that hay production was very poor in the summer of 2016, the winter was long, and other ranchers had lost animals as well.

From Protect the Harvest

Continued Harassment and the No Trespassing Signs

Each day following the initial visit and serving of demands, the Stark County Sheriff’s Department had vehicles and officers casing the ranch.  They drove onto the property, drove down the driveway, drove through hay fields and drove along fence lines.  Along with the patrols, Deputies, an Assistant State’s Attorney, Dr. Brummond, and an Associate from Dr. Brummond’s clinic made numerous unannounced visits.  They entered Dassinger Ranch property and questioned Gary, his hired hand, and his daughter who had arranged for leave from her duty in Japan about where the animals were on the property.  As recently as May 2, the Sheriff’s Department and Dr. Brummond did not know where all of Gary’s cattle were and had to be directed to their pasture.

On the advice of his attorney, Gary obtained additional “No Trespassing” signs and hung a chain over the end of his lane.  On May 20, two vehicles from the Sheriff’s Department drove up to the property and parked at the end of the lane. Noticing that the two vehicles had been parked there quite some time, Gary and his daughter walked down the lane and approached them.  One of the Sheriff’s Deputies, Major Kaylor, told them he was, “Just checking in”.  He also said that he wasn’t going to be “…messing with a No Trespassing sign”.  He ended the conversation by telling Gary and his daughter, “These horses are looking real good.”  Gary’s daughter then returned to her work.  However, the Sheriff’s vehicle remained at the end of the lane for 30 more minutes. 

The Notification of “Seizure in Place” and Further Harassment

Monday, May 22, after Major Kaylor left, a Sheriff’s Deputy arrived at the ranch.  He informed Gary’s daughter they were looking for her dad. They were serving him with a “Seizure in Place Order.” The Deputy said, “We can come on the ranch whenever we want.”  He told her he had the right to enter and he was going to see the animals. He then said, “I don’t know what your dad has told you, but it was a really bad situation when we first showed up”.  The Deputy made comments about dead animals on the property. Gary’s daughter replied that if they had actually done an investigation and asked her dad what happened, he could have told them the circumstances. None of the animals starved to death, as Dr. Brummond implied.  Gary’s daughter also told him about ranch life and the fact that it was winter when the animals died. In addition to the fact that hay production was very poor in the summer of 2016, the winter was long, and other ranchers had lost animals as well.

The Sheriff’s department immediately increased their patrols of the ranch. From the time they spoke to Gary’s daughter, they drove by at least hourly for the next six hours.  They drove up and down the lane and parked across the road.  They even parked on a neighbor’s land across the road until he told them that they did not have his permission to park there.  They drove onto the property and left gates open, or not properly closed.  A gate opening directly onto the road in front of their property was left partially open.  This would have allowed the horses direct access to the road. Gary, his daughter, and JR started following behind them because they were concerned about the safety of the livestock.

In addition to the hourly patrols during the day time, the Sherriff’s Deputies would arrive at around 5 PM at their shift change and park at the end of the lane.  They would stay there well into the night. Often there was more than one vehicle, and the officers would keep their vehicles running with the lights on, doors open and visit.  They would occasionally shine a bright light up the driveway as late as 10:00 PM.

The Tip

On May 22, Gary was served with a Seizure in Place Order.  The animals could not be removed from the Ranch.  On Tuesday, May 23, Dr. Woodruff called Gary and his family because a reliable, concerned source informed her that there was a plan in place to actually remove the animals.   The cattle were to be removed on Wednesday, May 24, and the horses on Thursday, May 25.   Gary was informed that the horses were going to be hauled 500 miles away to a feedlot in Park River, North Dakota.  This was devastating news for Gary as it would mean the end of his prized breeding program.  Once others in the community found out the plan for Gary’s herd of horses, it started a barrage of phone calls to the State’s Attorney’s Office and Sheriff’s Department.  The plan was changed for the horses.  A bill of sale was issued to a horse welfare organization that had requested to step in and help.

Since Gary and his family had learned that there were actually plans to remove the horses and cattle and to sell them, in preparation, they sorted them for loading.  They separated the mares and foals and placed them in corrals.  They were told one person might be taking all the geldings and stallions, so they sorted them out and put them all in one pasture.   Their goal was to have everything in order to reduce stress on their animals should officials arrive to remove them.   The cattle were not removed on Wednesday, May 24.  In the afternoon, on the advice of his lawyer, Gary hired criminal defense attorney, Thomas Murtha. He stated that he would attempt to file an injunction with the court to issue a Temporary Restraining Order.  The Temporary Restraining Order would stop the removal of the animals from Gary’s ranch.  Murtha’s request pointed out that only the original April 22, assessment by Dr. Brummond was included with the request to remove and sell the animals.  Missing were Dr. Brummond’s second assessment and the documents prepared by Dr. Woodruff.

The Second Seizure

On the morning of Thursday, May 25, JR went to check on a group of heifers who had yet to calve.  He overheard one of the Sheriff’s Deputies talking to a friend on the phone, telling him, “There are a lot of really good horses here.  You need to come early so you can pick out a good one or you’ll miss out.”

Later on, the Sheriff and his Deputies arrived at the Dassinger Ranch.  Trailers also started arriving at the ranch.  They were lined up almost one half mile along the road in front of the property.  The Sheriff’s Department set up a road block.  Along with the Sheriff’s Department, there were volunteers from Triple H Miniature Horse Rescue.  A group of staff members from Dr. Brummond’s clinic arrived with portable panels.

One Sheriff’s Deputy apologized to Gary’s daughter.  He said he had to follow orders but did not agree with what was going on.  A volunteer quickly assessed the animals and said, “I did not volunteer to take healthy animals away from their owners.”  This volunteer has offered to testify on Gary’s behalf.

Before they even started loading animals the Sheriff’s Department was notified an injunction was pending. They only waited about a half hour before Sheriff Oestreich hollered out “We’re goin’ with it.   Load ‘em up”.   It was chaotic.  It was clear that there were people involved who didn’t know what to do.  There was a lot of yelling and running around. 

Reporters and “The Press Area”

A number of reporters learned about the situation at Dassinger Ranch.  When the first reporter arrived at the ranch he was denied entry by the Sheriff’s Department.  He was told he was not allowed to enter a “crime scene”.  Gary spoke with the reporter and arranged to pick him up at the road block.  Once the reporter was in Gary’s vehicle the Sheriff’s Department could not stop him.  Gary took the reporter in through a back gate and showed him the pasture and livestock.   The reporter then asked Gary if he could finish the interview in his home.   Once the Sheriff’s Department noticed the reporter heading towards Gary’s home, they made further objections.  They told him he was not allowed to enter “…for his own safety”.  After more confusion and fumbling around they eventually set up a “Press Area” where reporters could gather. 

Judge Orders the Horses Returned

Dassinger Ranch Starving Horse

On the afternoon of Thursday, May 25, Southwest District Judge, The Honorable Rhonda Ehlis reviewed Murtha’s request and granted an injunction.  She ordered all the animals to be returned.  By this time, more than 10 horses had been loaded and were off the ranch.  Some were on their way to West Dakota Vet Clinic for further assessment.  Others were in route to Triple H Miniature Horse Rescue.   Individuals from the Sheriff’s Department made the comment that it was all a big waste of time.  They were going to be back to remove the animals again within 48 hours.

It took some time to return all of the horses.  One foal was difficult to load and eventually had to be sedated.  One mare cut her pastern in the loading process.  The day before, a foal was injured when it got spooked by one of the Sheriff Department vehicles. Gary called Dr. Noyce who came out to the ranch the evening of May 25, to provide treatment.

Sheriff Oestreich came out on the property on May 26, with a bag of feed. He spoke with Gary’s daughter and said that the Sheriff’s Department realized that since they had seized the animals, they were responsible for their care. He asked where the mare and foal with the cut knee was so they could call a vet out. Gary’s daughter informed Sheriff Oestreich that they already had a veterinarian come out the night before because she had been told that the injury needed to be treated within 12 hours. Sheriff Oestreich also said he didn’t think any of the mares would give birth over the weekend.  He said that since a lot of his “…guys don’t know horses…,” he didn’t see the benefit of them patrolling all weekend. However, the next day, a Sheriff’s Department vehicle was again patrolling the property.

The Hearing and the Witness List

A hearing was ordered for June 5, about the Seizure Order.  John Connor, the man who was responsible for the care and feeding of the livestock was called to the stand as a witness against Gary Dassinger. In exchange for being a witness, John Connor has been granted immunity.  John Connor claimed he was not paid and used his own money to buy supplemental feed for the animals.  Gary has canceled payroll checks and feed invoices proving John Connor was lying on the stand.

The veterinarian, Dr. Kim Brummond, who made the original assessment and report used against Gary Dassinger, was also called as a witness.  It is interesting to note that prior to this case Dr. Brummond had a defamation judgement against herself in the amount of over $260,000.  Dr. Brummond appealed and the North Dakota Supreme Court reviewed her case.  In 2004, the Supreme Court confirmed the jury’s decision.

During the hearing, Sheriff Oestreich claimed that the land the horses were on is over grazed.  The State’s Attorney showed a photograph of a portion of the ranch that is rocky.   Even during a rainy growing season, that area does not produce much grass.  They did not show the photograph Gary provided of the pasture approximately 500 feet away from the rocky area that shows plentiful grass.  They also did not show the images that have been captured by Representative Luke Simons.  Those images show horses and cattle grazing on lush green grass in the pastures.

Interview with Dr. Woodruff

Radio commentator, Trent Loos interviewed Dr. Woodruff, and she talked about the seizure.  Dr. Woodruff stated that it was hard for her to believe a law like this had been written and that animals can be seized and sold without notifying the owner.    She stated, “All of us think that we are supposed to get due process.  In this instance this man had not been charged with anything over this entire month.  He had been given directions on what he should do to improve the situation and he had followed through on all of that.”  She stated that the order was for every animal on the place except for his cats and dogs, to be immediately removed.  It wasn’t just for the animals that had been assessed with a lower body score condition.

Dr. Woodruff then commented about the lack of information provided to the court.  She said that she provided Gary her written report within two days, on May 20.  She also commented that she had made the State Veterinarian’s office aware of her assessment before the seizure was ordered, and the removal of animals from the property occurred.    Dr. Woodruff said that the seizure order only referred to the first assessment made by veterinarian, Dr. Brummond, “Neither my report or the follow up report were presented to the court when the court ordered seizure was made.”  She also commented that Dr. Brummond’s follow up assessment that occurred only 18 days after her first assessment was, “fairly similar to mine as far as condition scores.”

Please Help Support Gary Dassinger (CLICK HERE)Support Dassinger Ranch GoFundMe

This is a relatively new North Dakota law.  It was introduced by the Humane Society of the United States and pushed by their Humane Legislative Fund. Since it became law, it has never been tried.  That is because historically, the numbers of animal abuse and neglect cases in North Dakota have been few and far between.  The HSUS has also come into North Dakota and trained law enforcement agencies on their interpretation of animal law and how law enforcement should handle animal welfare complaints.

On his radio show Trent Loos commented about the new law and the fact that he had testified against it when it was only a bill,  “…I know that this law existed for a terrible reason.  Four years ago I and a group of people like minded were at the Capital testifying against this very bill.”   He said, “I told them and there were many people from North Dakota that said this was going to happen, and so I don’t want to be the one saying, “I told you so”, but there’s a large group of people that said, “You can’t let this happen”.  You can’t have somebody’s property removed from them before they’re found guilty.”  Trent went on to explain that under this law any “observer” can report an animal owner to the authorities.  He said, “Anybody could live through the same experience, if you have a neighbor, a veterinarian or anyone in the county that’s upset with you.  That’s what’s troubling more than anything.”

Gary’s accuser lives out of state and has never even been to Dassinger Ranch. Gary’s legal fees relating to the seizure order and hearing have been very costly.  He has had to borrow money from his daughter.  There are more significant legal expenses on the horizon.  Gary has been charged with animal abuse and neglect based on Dr. Brummond’s April 22 assessment. He is facing a criminal trial.

This is a landmark case against Gary Dassinger and the outcome will have a significant impact on farmers, ranchers and animal owners everywhere. According to the new law, even if Gary’s innocence is proven, there is no liability for the accuser.  That means a person can falsely accuse someone of animal abuse or neglect, causing them undue harm and financial hardships in order to prove their innocence.  The person who makes the false accusation gets away with it.  They don’t get punished for making false accusations or have to pay any fines or legal fees.   Gary will have to pay his attorney and the court costs regardless of the outcome.

Please consider donating to help Gary with his legal fees. 

He is not only fighting this fight to save his ranch and his breeding program, but he is fighting for us all. 

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