PORT TOWNSEND — A Jefferson County judge denied a motion to have the subjects of an animal cruelty case physically examined 18 months after they were seized.
Superior Court Judge Keith Harper also ruled Friday the eight bison no longer need to stay at Center Valley Animal Rescue in Quilcene, where they have spent the majority of time since they were allegedly found to be diseased and malnourished and removed from a Chimacum man’s property in April 2018.
Denver Lee Shoop, 73, was charged with eight counts of animal cruelty last year and is facing a retrial after the first ended in a hung jury in February. Each charge is a Class C felony, punishable by a maximum of five years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine.
Shoop’s two-week trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 7.
Friday’s hearing was for defense attorney Jack Range of Jefferson Associated Counsel to justify his argument that the bison should receive hands-on examinations, a motion Harper granted July 5.
But before he presented his side, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Julie St. Marie was granted an opportunity to call three witnesses to testify about the dangerous conditions the bison are presenting at the shelter.
“It no longer is possible to house these animals at their facility because it’s a danger to human life,” St. Marie said. “It’s an untenable situation.”
Dr. Jan Richards, a veterinarian who works with livestock, said there wouldn’t be much to gain from examining the bison today, comparing them to their condition in April 2018.
“The improvement of their physical condition can be examined and seen,” she said. “I don’t think it’s feasible for a hand examination. It would be very dangerous.
“They’re robust, very healthy, very powerful and unpredictable. It would be difficult to handle them and put them in chutes.”
Range objected to the line of questioning, but Harper said he could change his mind on allowing exams and wanted to hear the witness testimony.
“I’ve read what your expert submitted, and that’s all I need from him,” Harper told the defense.
Richards, who also serves as a board member for Center Valley Animal Rescue (CVAR), said the bison aren’t allowing caregivers to get very close to them.
“Typically when you come near them, they tend to want to face their danger and charge,” she said.
Sara Penhallegon, the director of CVAR, testified that one of them recently charged her while she was working to corral them. She waved her hands above her head to slow it down.
“It stopped within six inches of me,” she said.
Martin Penhallegon, Sara’s father, owns the property where CVAR is located. He said he and his wife purchased it about 15 years ago with the intent of turning it into an animal sanctuary.
It’s not built to contain the fully grown bison, he said.
“We didn’t approve of them coming on, but the site was it,” he said. “There was nowhere else for them to go.
“My wife and I are extremely upset they are there.”
Sara Penhallegon testified the bison have created between $60,000 and $70,000 in damages to the property, including metal fencing that has been destroyed.
Since one of the animals charged her, she said she’s had to change the way she feeds them, and she’s concerned they’re not eating the same amount.
“Before, every bison had its own pile of food,” she said.
The Penhallegons hired a lawyer to put a lien on the bison and were set to put them up for auction with a starting price of $15,000 before Harper’s decision Friday to allow the animals to be transported elsewhere.
“Our plan was to keep them here a month,” Sara Penhallegon said.
Once they started to regain their strength, they were transported to a ranch in Washougal near Vancouver, she said. But the bison have been back at CVAR since this spring.
Range cross-examined each of the three witnesses, asking Richards about the transportation method.
“They were backed up to the big house near the pasture, and once we were able to have everybody out of the way, they leaked out,” Richards said.
The bison were not sedated as they left a truck and moved into the field, she said.
Richards added she doesn’t think they were sedated when they were first loaded onto the truck in Washougal.
Sara Penhallegon said since they’ve returned, they’ve become more rambunctious, and Richards testified the CVAR facility does not have a chute or a workable solution for fencing.
“It’s adequate, but it’s not,” Richards corrected herself. “It’s working, but it’s dangerous.”
Range said the bison initially were evaluated on a body index scale from 1-9, and Richards confirmed the scale was for horses and other animals.
At the time, Penhallegon said all but one scored a 1, and the other was a 2.
“Zero is dead,” she said in May 2018.
When Range questioned Richards on Friday, she said they did not use an index specifically for bison.
Range’s argument for further examination was bolstered by a concept called “spoilation,” which referred to evidence the state is responsible to protect before it’s presented at trial.
“The state has an obligation to make sure evidence is preserved,” he said.
In this case, the bison are the evidence.
He said he spoke to officials at the Olympic Game Farm who regularly corral and tranquilize bison to be transported for exams.
“They could not come to assist because of licensing issues,” Range said. “On their own property, it’s OK, but they can’t travel.”
Range said he ran into similar issues with the state Department of Fish & Wildlife.
One viable option is to have an expert travel from Whidbey Island, Range said. The expert submitted an invoice for $4,500 for the tranquilizers and transportation to CVAR to draw blood and perform the hands-on exams.
“The key piece is on the state to gather these animals in a chute,” Range said.
Now the pasture where they’re kept has no grass; it’s down to dirt, Martin Penhallegon said.
The Penhallegons want to transfer the bison to the Black Beauty Ranch, an animal refuge in Texas.
Outside the courtroom, Sara Penhallegon said they hope to transport them off CVAR property within two weeks.
Harper cited the process, which began with a request to examine them in May, and said the defense has had plenty of time.
“I’m not going to order [CVAR] to hold them any longer,” Harper said. “It’s not a safe situation at this point.”
While Harper referred to a letter he received from CVAR and that he didn’t care for its “threatening tone,” he said his job is to do the right thing.
“I no longer, right this minute, see how this is relevant 18 months after this seizure,” he said.
He also denied Range’s motion to dismiss the case based on due process in denying the examinations.
“I don’t see this as a due process violation at all,” Harper said. “Not at this point.
“The chances of these bison now to be able to show anything relative to last year are between zero and none in this court’s opinion,” he said. “The defense has had a long period of time to pursue this.”
Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at [email protected].