PORT TOWNSEND — Tempers flared in Jefferson County Superior Court as an ongoing animal cruelty case nears another milestone following a mistrial earlier this winter.
Judge Keith Harper and Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Julie St. Marie went back and forth as Harper granted a request from the defense to allow for the examination of several bison, which were found to be emaciated last year on the Chimacum property of Denver Lee Shoop, 73.
Defense attorney Jack Range argued he had not been able to schedule a visit at Center Valley Animal Rescue in Quilcene, where the bison were taken for emergency care in April 2018.
Range said he wanted to investigate the surroundings and have licensed professionals examine the health of the bison.
Shoop was charged with eight counts of animal cruelty, each carrying a maximum of 15 years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine, although a jury deadlocked on all counts earlier this year. A mistrial was declared Feb. 11.
County prosecutors chose to retry the case, and a trial had been scheduled for later this month until Friday’s arguments.
St. Marie took issue with the defense asking for additional time for discovery and said the health of the bison today isn’t relevant to their health at the time Shoop was charged with the crimes.
“It’s extremely costly and potentially life-threatening to perform these experiments on those animals,” she told Harper.
“We are ready for trial. This case needs to move forward. The state is ready.”
Range argued his initial request for additional time took place in mid-May, and he added a reasonable defense wouldn’t be able to take place without the medical evaluation of the bison.
“I’m investigating as well as I can with the resources not being the state,” Range told Harper. “I’m following some of the court’s guidance in doing so.”
A status hearing was set for Friday.
As Harper started to explain his decision, St. Marie interrupted and presented another argument about the lack of justification for the “enormous cost involved.”
“I’m at my wits’ end,” Harper countered, raising his voice and restating he was done listening to arguments.
“If we were dealing with cats and dogs, I would have signed the subpoena immediately.”
Harper said he would continue the trial so the defense could work out logistics with examining the bison.
“As much as the state may believe this case is simple, they have a right to pursue that,” he said to St. Marie. “If the state refuses to cooperate, fine. I’ll deal with that later.”
St. Marie later apologized and expressed her frustration with the defense team’s expert witness, who testified during the February trial.
“Based on his own testimony, the defense expert said, ‘I don’t know anything about bison,’” St. Marie said.
Harper discussed the expert’s background with cattle and other livestock. He said he had reviewed the expert’s resume and found him to be “not unqualified.”
Harper said the jury is responsible for determining which expert witnesses are credible.
Eight bison were found on Shoop’s property last year, and seven were initially relocated to Center Valley Animal Rescue for emergency care. The other was found to be aggressive toward rescuers and was to remain on Shoop’s property until it was safe to move him.
Center Valley owner Sara Penhallegon told the Peninsula Daily News in May 2018 that all of the animals were in extremely poor condition.
“On a scale of 1 to 9, all but one scored a 1,” Penhallegon said. “The other was barely a 2. Zero is dead.”
Shoop had told Animal Control Deputy Terry Taylor at the time that he only had 20 bales of hay in his barn and he was rationing them to conserve his supply. Shoop also said he was not financially capable of buying more feed.
His intention was to raise the bison for food, Shoop told Taylor.
Taylor reported last year that he had found a dead animal on Shoop’s property and the skeletal remains of another bison that had died during the past few months, according to court records.
Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at [email protected].