Bentleys see victory in case against Hot Springs County sheriffs
Casper – In a decision released by a jury on April 25, Chris and Larry Bentley won their case against the Hot Springs County Sheriff’s Office after the killing of their horse.
“In August 2010, a sheriff’s deputy shot and killed the Bentley’s horse on their land in view of the front door of their house without trying, in any way, to contact the Bentleys or brand inspectors,” summarizes Attorney John Robinson of Jamieson and Robinson, LLC in Jackson. “That caused a lot of concern by the Bentleys.”
Robinson relates that the veterinarian called to the scene only recommended euthanasia because she had been misled that the horse had been abandoned.
“We pursued a case against the undersheriffs who shot the horse and the Sheriff’s Office,” he comments.
“In the earliest stages of the case, Undersheriff Larson offered a judgment – which is a formal settlement,” Robinson explains. “The clerk entered the judgment for $2,700, and the court ordered Larson to pay attorney’s fees.”
However, Robinson also notes that the problem ran deeper.
“Before the judgment was handed down, we took a deposition of the Sheriff’s Office itself and learned that they had a specific policy providing for this sort of killing of animals without trying to contact owners or brand inspectors,” he continues. “We proceeded to trial against the Sheriff’s Office on whether or not the Bentleys suffered constitutional violations and if it was a result of this policy.”
During the trial, Robinson notes that the jury heard a wide array of testimony.
“A lot of information came to the jury in the form of testimony from Undersheriff Larson, the sheriff, brand inspector Tom Christensen, the Bentleys and the veterinarian,” says Robinson.
He notes that it was very revealing to see the lack of effort exerted by the Sheriff’s Office in attempting to determine ownership of the horse they planned to kill, especially when the Bentley’s house was in full view from where they found the horse.
“The veterinarian also asked about the ownership of the horse, and everyone said it was abandoned,” Robinson says. “She comes from a non-brand state, so she was relying on the people who were supposed to know the law in making her decision.”
The jury verdict was that the policy did inflict constitutional violations against the Bentleys.
“The court entered a judgment on April 28 in favor of the Bentleys,” says Robinson. “We had significant legal fees and attorney’s fees bills, and that will be taken care of by the Sheriff’s Office, as well.”
“The hope is that, as a result, this will cause the Hot Springs County Sheriff’s Office – and maybe different law enforcement agencies across the state – to look at their policies and make sure they are written in a way to respect owner’s rights,” he explains.
Additionally, Robinson emphasizes that policies should also reflect and be cognizant of brand inspection rules and livestock laws.
“From a legal perspective, there is nothing terribly complicated or complex about this case,” he says. “Before someone destroys property – and in Wyoming that includes livestock – they should try to find the owner, and if someone is going to kill an animal on private property, they should try to find the property and animal owners.”
In addition, Robinson notes that familiarity of all laws, including livestock laws, by law enforcement individuals is incredibly important.
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.