UPDATED: Time Running Out for Charges in Spindletop Dog Refuge Case
Update -- June 27: Katie Jarl, Texas director of the Humane Society of the United States has given us a statement that makes us even more puzzled about what has taken Holifield so long. She tells us in an email that "part of our assistance involved documenting the condition of the dogs through medical exams and photographs. These records were organized in binders and included each animal's individual medical exam and multiple photographs....of all obvious injuries. Every photo shows the animal and their unique identifying number. This documentation was turned over to the country directly following the seizure."
Moreover, Jarl says, "Final documentation -- the expert veterinary statement -- was given to the county more than one year ago."
She adds: "The HSUS believes the evidence collected warrants cruelty charges and has reached out on several occasions since the seizure to offer further assistance." Specifically, she says, "We spoke with Holifield on multiple occasions and each time reiterated to let us know if we could be of further assistance regarding the case."
If it's true that Holifield had well-organized medical reports and photographs shortly after the seizure and has been sitting on expert veterinary testimony for more than a year, what could possibly account for this delay?
Update -- June 26: We heard back from Montgomery County First Assistant District Attorney Phil Grant, who tells us "Our office has aggressively prosecuted animal abuse cases (for example the donkey dragging case) over the last few years, and we will review the Spindletop case with the same eye. We cannot review it, however, until we get a completed investigation. We look forward to reviewing that offense report when it is referred to our office. I will reach out to [investigator Tim Holifield's] office this morning to see if there is anything our office can do to expedite the investigation."
We don't believe the January 2014 conviction of Marc Saunders for dragging a donkey behind his SUV is analogous to the Spindletop case. In that case -- which took 15 months to go to trial -- the animal survived, and the physical evidence and witnesses statements were overwhelming. We find it inconceivable that any prosecutor could actually lose such a case. In a complex case like Spindletop, involving alleged mistreatment of hundreds of dogs over a period of years, and an allegation of 38 dogs actually baking to death in a building, a little more investigative and prosecutorial effort might be required.
Update: We want to point out that the statute of limitations for misdemeanor animal cruelty charges is two years. However, a state jail felony charge has a three-year statute of limitations.
If Montgomery County authorities wish to file animal cruelty charges against Spindletop dog refuge owner Leah Purcell, they only have three weeks left: July 17 marks the expiration of the two year statute of limitations.
That will be the anniversary of the day sheriff's deputies and personnel from the Humane Society of the United States seized nearly 300 dogs from Purcell's facility in Willis, where authorities say the dogs were found living in filthy conditions. Investigators also learned that approximately 38 dogs asphyxiated in a building on the property that lacked air conditioning.
Tim Holifield, the county's chief animal cruelty investigator, told Hair Balls in an email that he has not turned over the results of his investigation to the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office.
"When I finally got it from the HSUS, it was not ready for presentation," he told us in an email. "I have a stack of documents that I work on between other cases, and plan to have it turned in by the 2 year anniversary. I have well over 1,000 photos that are not organized to correspond with each animal."
He also stated that he's been "in discussions" with prosecutors and that intake prosecutor Lee Romero "has been involved since the beginning, and he is good with it and will expedite it."
But Romero told us he has no recollection of the case.
"I don't know the case that he's talking about specifically, but it will probably be sent to one of the trial teams for review for grand jury," Romero said. "So I'm not going to have a whole lot to do with whatever it is."
When explained that it was a potential animal cruelty case, Romero said "A lot of people have a...mistaken impression that because there are, you know, animals who are hurt and are suffering, that somebody's going to jail for it. And these are really tough cases. It's going to take expert testimony to show what these animals are suffering from some....There's really a lot to it, more than meets the eye."
Which begs the question: if these are "really tough cases," why is Holifield working on it alone?
And it's not like Purcell is off prosecutors' radar: she was indicted by a grand jury in April 2014 for illegal commercial dumping, a state jail felony with a sentencing range of 180 days to two years. According to court records, the alleged dumping occurred July 17, 2012 -- so prosecutors made sure to bring that to a grand jury in time. The indictment alleges that Purcell intentionally or knowingly disposed 200 lbs., or 200 cubic feet, of "litter or other solid waste" in an unapproved dump site.
The uncertainty over whether charges will be filed is especially grueling for people who placed dogs at Spindletop and have never been told of the animals' fate. Neither Purcell nor the attorney who represented her after the seizure, self-styled "Texas Dog Lawyer" Zandra Anderson, have ever disclosed a name of the dogs who perished in the building. (Anderson did not respond to requests for comment this week, and Purcell could not be reached this week either).
Pridemore Pridmore, who says she transferred transported a dog to Spindletop two months before the raid, fears that the dog was one of the 38 who suffocated in the building.
"There are still many of us who have no answers and no closure,"
Pridemore Pridmore told us in an email. "From our perspective, Purcell abused well over 278 dogs, was responsible for killing at least 30 more, and seems to have walked away scot free."
We've reached out to First Assistant District Attorney Phil Grant for more information and will update accordingly.