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Thurston County Prosecutor Harasses Elderly Infirm Widow

The District Court set a November 2, 2023 date for a case brought by the Thurston County Prosecutor charging the abuse and neglect of 2 horses, and he was doubtless confident it was an easy win to boost the Office’s conviction rates. It didn’t turn out that way. Here are the facts of the case with the names omitted to respect privacy.

My neighbor lives on 5 acres in unincorporated Thurston County. She is an elderly and recently disabled widow living on a fixed income. She had 2 horses on the property who she’d owned for more than 20 years. She also had a dog, 2 pygmy goats and a few stray cats that took refuge in the barn. Being animal lovers, their antics formed a large part of our conversations.  The horses were companions whom she considered pets, providing them with hay and treats and tending to their hooves when needed. She showed me how she took care of their hooves, which she did herself, and related many stories about the horses.  She considered them “big dogs”  and treated them as such.  They would wait for her to come feed them in the morning with their heads hanging over the fence near her house.

Several years ago, my neighbor suffered a serious medical emergency that kept her in the hospital for many weeks. During that time, neighbors and family fed the horses for her. Her illness still requires her to go in for twice weekly treatments. It also kept her housebound much of the time, but she still managed to go out to feed the horses.

About 3 years ago, my neighbor was again taken to the hospital by Thurston County medics.

Care of the horses again fell to neighbors and family who fed and watered them, but their hooves also needed trimming, so I asked around the neighborhood and found a person who agreed to trim them. Unfortunately, the horses, being unfamiliar with this person, ran from her and so their hooves could not be cared for.

In June 2021, just a few months after being released from the hospital, my neighbor was served with a complaint of animal abuse and neglect by a Thurston County Sheriff deputy. The deputy did not direct my neighbor to community resources that could have helped her care for the horses. Instead, he served her with an animal abuse complaint and asked her to relinquish the horses to a rescue, implying that doing so would nullify the complaint. Though she was very attached to the horses having cared for them for decades, she acknowledged caring for them was becoming difficult and agreed to give them up. She did not prolong, object to or complain about the horses’ relocation, nor did she fight to get them back. There obviously was no criminal intent to abuse or neglect the animals.  She was always concerned about the welfare of the horses, and if that meant they had to be relocated, so be it. That should have been the end of the story. But in May of 2022, nearly a year later, Thurston County’s Prosecuting Attorney filed a court case against this elderly disabled woman for animal neglect and abuse.

My neighbor obtained the services of the County Public Defender, who despite several attempts at negotiating a settlement, was unable to convince the Prosecuting Attorney to not take the case to trial. After all, prosecutors like to win cases, especially ones that don’t seem to require much effort on their part to count as a “win.”

The Prosecutor’s decision to go to court caused my neighbor the stress of having to respond to various motions, notices of appearance and other legal proceedings while also struggling to maintain her fragile health for the next year and a half. Many hours of taxpayer funded legal time of the Court, the Prosecutor and the Public Defender were spent to prosecute a disabled elderly widow for a crime she did not commit. A court date was finally set for November 2, 2023.

Having learned about my neighbor’s situation in October, I spoke to her public defense attorney and offered to be a witness in the case, as I had direct knowledge of the situation over more than 10 years. Subsequently, I wrote a letter to the Court that offered advance testimony of my knowledge of the good care the horses had received over the years and the health issues of my neighbor. It also strongly criticized the Prosecuting Attorney for violating my neighbor’s civil rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act and questioned the public purpose served by persecuting an elderly infirm widow.

A few weeks later, the Prosecuting Attorney dropped the case in place of a stipulated order that required my neighbor to pay $250 to the animal rescue that took the horses. A reasonable and just solution – just two and a half years of needless expense and anguish late.

The determination by the Prosecuting Attorney to prosecute a case that clearly provided no benefit to the public safety and, in fact, violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and civil rights law, raises questions about the priorities of this Office and its integrity. How many other such cases are filed against relatively defenseless residents for minor infractions that could easily be settled for the benefit of all? As an institutional member of the Chamber of Commerce, how many cases does this Office file against fellow business members?

And how many cases are filed against those who violate environmental regulations that harm us all? These are questions the public rightfully deserves to have answered.

One Comment

  1. E.J Zita January 19, 2024

    Thank you, Esther, for being such a good neighbor – to your elderly neighbor, and to Thurston Country residents. Your caring and activism make our neighborhoods and our County better. All good to you, dear Esther.

    (And shame on Jon Tunheim. It is past time for a new County Prosecutor – especially now that we have a new Commission.)

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