A group of bison that was removed from a Chimacum-area property. (Center Valley Animal Rescue)

A group of bison that was removed from a Chimacum-area property. (Center Valley Animal Rescue)

Jefferson County judge sets deadline to justify bison exams

Defense has until Sept. 6 to make ‘reasonable’ case

PORT TOWNSEND — Defense attorneys have two more weeks to present an argument that bison in an animal cruelty case should be sedated and examined more than a year after they were allegedly found emaciated.

Jefferson County Superior Court Judge Keith Harper ruled Friday to continue a status hearing in a criminal case against Denver Lee Shoop to Sept. 6, when he plans to rule on the feasibility of exams.

But Harper warned defense attorney Richard Davies that the request needed to be “reasonable,” and he told deputy prosecuting attorney Julie St. Marie that the bison must remain in the state.

“The evidence has basically been impossible to physically examine without sedating them,” Harper said. “There’s no equipment around, and it’s not possible to put them in chutes.”

He emphasized the importance of taxpayer costs, with one estimate running up to $30,000, he said.

“The court’s not going to approve that kind of expense,” Harper said.

Shoop, 73, is being retried on eight counts of animal cruelty in a case began in April 2018. Each charge carries a maximum of 15 years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine.

The bison have been held at Center Valley Animal Rescue in Quilcene since they were removed from Shoop’s property in Chimacum more than a year ago.

A jury earlier this year could not reach a decision, and it was declared a mistrial on Feb. 11.

The current trial is expected to start Oct. 7 and could last two weeks.

Since mid-May, defense attorney Jack Range has attempted to gain access to the animals to have them examined, but he’s testified in recent months he’s had difficulty finding an expert willing to do the job.

Davies stood in for Range on Friday because Range had a separate case in district court. Both attorneys are part of Jefferson Associated Counsel, the court-appointed public defender’s office.

A bison that was removed from a Chimacum-area property. (Center Valley Animal Rescue)

A bison that was removed from a Chimacum-area property. (Center Valley Animal Rescue)

Davies said Range has been in contact with the Olympic Game Farm in Sequim to potentially find an expert who could perform the exams.

“It was a fruitful conversation,” Davies said. “They said, ‘Yeah, we have our own buffalo. That’s something we do often.’ ”

However, Davies said Range was later contacted by an attorney who represents the game farm, and they did not want to get involved.

“Given the legal advice, it was, ‘No, we’re not going to do that for you,’” Davies said.

Another alternative with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife required Range to file a public records request “to find out why Fish and Wildlife doesn’t want anything to do with our request to have them sedated and evaluated,” Davies said.

The two additional weeks will give Range time to receive those records and review them, Davies argued.

St. Marie, who said the state was ready for trial in August, was disappointed with the continuance.

“It was supposed to be documented, explained and justified at this hearing,” she said.

St. Marie argued the request to examine the bison should be denied but left open for when the animals eventually are transferred to a sanctuary in Texas.

She said the animals are becoming dangerous to keep at Center Valley because they’re getting stronger. One of them charged at the facility owner earlier this week, St. Marie said.

“Her life is in danger,” she argued to the court.

Harper said he doesn’t want to micromanage where the bison are kept, but they must remain available for possible exams until Sept. 6.

He called that a “drop-dead date” to determine whether the exams will take place, and he questioned the future of the retrial if he orders an exam at that time and the bison aren’t available.

“They’re not going to Texas,” he said.

St. Marie said she didn’t want the state to be accused of tampering with evidence, so she attempted to clarify what Harper wanted in terms of where the bison could be kept.

“I’ll leave it up to [Center Valley] to determine what’s best for their safety,” Harper said. “If they can’t handle the animals, maybe somebody else should have them.”

________

Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at bmclean@peninsuladailynews.com.

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