City of Longview may pay in animal seizure
By Sarah Thomas email@example.com
Aug. 28, 2013 at 10 p.m.
A jury's verdict Wednesday will result in the return of livestock seized in July from a Longview man's property.
Richard Deutsch was found not guilty on animal cruelty charges, and the city might be forced to pay for his animals' room and board at Safe Haven Equine Rescue and transportation costs for returning them to Deutsch.
The verdict, which came two weeks after one of his horses died while in the care of Safe Haven, was bittersweet for Deutsch.
"I haven't decided what I'm going to do about that yet," he said, not ruling out the possibility of legal action. "Right now, I'm just real irritated with some of the lying and deceptive actions that took place here."
Richard Fincher, executive director of Safe Haven, said the gelding had to be euthanized Aug. 16 after a "freak accident" shattered one of the horse's shoulders.
He said the accident was investigated, but it was unclear what happened.
"(The shoulder) shattered, and we had to put him down. It just broke my heart, especially since it was on my watch," Fincher said.
The jury rendered its verdict after listening to two days of testimony from a witness list that included a veterinarian, two animal control officers and horse experts.
The charges stem from the July 22 seizure of a mare, a gelding, a bull and a cow from Deutsch's North Longview property. Two dogs also were taken.
Photographs and video presented by defense attorney Greg Neeley challenged photos taken by city animal control officers and showed Deutsch standing next to fresh piles of hay and a water-filled bucket. Neeley told the jurors the images were taken the same day as the seizure.
Neeley also challenged the prosecution's argument that the horses had a body count of four on a scale from one to nine, with nine being the worst. He told the jury a body count of five was optimum.
"(I'm) obviously pleased for Richard. It's been a hard month since the seizure," Neeley said. "It's unfortunate about the mare that was euthanized while in the city's care."
Deutsch said at one point his attorney told him a deal was available if he would "sign a statement that I wouldn't talk to (the media), pay (Safe Haven) anywhere from $1,500 to $2,000 for transport and then sign the horses back over to Safe Haven.
"I flat out refused their offer," Deutsch said
He said the offer was extended to him after he found out one of the horses died.
The civil case was tried before Gregg County Court at Law No. 2 Judge Vincent Dulweber, who after the verdict said he believes it is the "city's responsibility to settle up with Safe Haven."
"I can't assess it against Mr. Deutsch, especially in light of the jury's finding," Dulweber told prosecutors.
The judge's comments were spurred by Fincher, who raised concerns that Safe Haven would be left holding the bag.
Fincher said he was headed home Wednesday night to set up a way to get the livestock back to Deutsch's property.
"They found him not guilty, and I agree. The judge ordered it. I don't have to like it, but that's what I'm going to do," Fincher said.
Shortly after the seizure, Fincher said, "If (the animals) weren't seized then, give them another month or so and they would have been in real bad shape."
Although Dulweber did not make a ruling about the city's financial responsibility in the case, he did say Safe Haven was acting as an agent of the city and therefore most likely would be required to pay.
"(Safe Haven) received the animals at the request of the city. I assume the city would be responsible for the cost. The jury found the city's seizure was not warranted," he said. "That's how the court sees it at this point."
Dulweber said a hearing on the matter could be scheduled if necessary.
To date, Deutsch has paid Safe Haven almost $3,000 for housing his animals and providing medical care.