A hearing to decide if the Ottawa County Humane Society unlawfully seized dehydrated and malnourished horses from a Carroll Township farm is scheduled for March 18 in Ottawa County Municipal Court.
Robin Vess, who has pled not guilty to charges of animal cruelty, filed a motion to suppress with the court, claiming the Humane Society entered the property without a search warrant and violated her Fourth Amendment rights as well as the Ohio Constitution.
“…The humane society…entered onto the property of the defendant, into a closed barn which is attached to the residence, without a warrant, and unlawfully seized approximately 40 horses,” the motion states. “Since the plaintiff entered without a warrant, the seizure of evidence was unlawful and cannot be used against the defendant. As such, the law requires suppression of all such evidence.”
Vess is represented by Toledo attorney Mark Davis. To support Vess’s contention, the motion cites federal as well as state cases.
“The Ohio Supreme Court has been particularly protective of a homeowner’s right to be free from unlawful seizure,” the motion says.
Humane Society personnel went to the farm at 3140 N. Behlman Road in Carroll Township in the afternoon of Jan. 29 and removed the horses. An officer from the township police department was dispatched to the farm to stand by for assistance.
In an affidavit, Vess said a woman who used to work for her “…snuck onto the property, without my permission” and called Nancy Silva, the county humane officer, who then came to the farm.
“The barn where the horses lived is attached directly to the residence,” her motion states. “Doors open from the home directly into the barn so that the barn is an extension of the residence.”
The motion says the barn itself is the residence of Tim Stayancho, who worked as the “barn manager” and lived in an efficiency apartment that was converted from a tack room.
“As such, the barn itself is a residence which requires the protection of the Fourth Amendment,” the motion states.
The court journal says the state has the burden of proving an exception to the warrant requirement and that Vess’ rights against unreasonable search and seizure weren’t violated.
The Ottawa County prosecutor’s office acknowledges there wasn’t a search warrant but argues in its response the seizure was justified.
“The Humane Society’s actions were justified under the exigent circumstances exception as they entered and seized horses imminently in need of medical attention,” the response states. “…the Humane Society did not enter the property for the purpose of gathering evidence.”
Courts use a three-part test to determine if an exception applies, the prosecutor’s office contends: police must have reasonable grounds to believe there is an emergency and immediate need for their assistance, the search must not be primarily motivated by an intent to arrest and seize evidence, and there must be a reasonable basis to associate the emergency with the place to be searched.
According to the prosecutor’s office, Stayancho and a friend noticed on Jan. 27 that two horses were down and one was later euthanized. Another horse was down on Jan. 28 and by Jan. 29 two more were also down.
The Humane Society received two separate calls on Jan. 29 regarding the emaciated horses, the prosecutor’s memorandum states.
“In response to the two complaints, Nancy Silva of the Humane Society spoke with Vess over the phone,” it says. “During the call, Vess invited the Humane Society’s assistance and informed Silva that Benevolent Love had died and three more horses were down. Upon arrival at Ms. Vess’s farm, Silva, along with other Humane Society workers, found two deceased horses (one euthanized), three horses down, and many emaciated horses.”
The decision to remove the surviving horses was made after Silva consulted with a veterinarian, according to the prosecutor’s office.
Judge Frederick Hany will hear the case.
More than 30 horses were transported to the Sandusky County Fairgrounds.