After almost two months since Michael Johnson had his horses seized from his Odin farm after alleged animal neglect the criminal investigation is still ongoing according to investigators.
According to a press release sent out by the Watonwan County Sheriff’s Office on June 22 on Friday June 22nd deputies from the Watonwan County Sheriff’s Department executed a search warrant at a rural farm site in Odin Township Section 25. Over 70 horses were removed from the property for probable cause of criminal animal cruelty. The horses will be quarantined, evaluated and treated as necessary. The disposition of the horses will be determined pursuant to Minnesota statute 343.235.
Sheriff Deputies are working with Agent Keith Streff from the Animal Humane Society (AHS) based in Golden Valley, MN. AHS is a private 501 C 3 non-profit organization dedicated to the welfare of animals. They have a legislative commission to assist law enforcement with the investigation and enforcement relevant to the animal welfare chapters 343-346.
The Animal Humane Society employs professional Humane Agents specifically trained in humane law enforcement. They also provide law enforcement with the personnel, equipment and resources necessary to process criminal animal cruelty cases when necessary.
Animal welfare cases are often emotionally charged with complicated circumstances and this case is no exception. However, the facts and circumstances will be thoroughly investigated and due process will be followed as required by law.
This is an active investigation. We ask those that are following this case to reserve judgment until all the facts are established and the investigation is completed. Additional information will be released as it becomes available.
Charges are pending upon review of reports by the Watonwan County Attorney’s Office
During the last County Commissioners Meeting Johnson along with his lawyer and others in attendance brought up issues that they are concerned about regarding the situation.
During the meeting Johnson’s lawyer explained that instead of doing what is done in most cases of educating his client about the lack of care that is taking place and how to correct it the agent decided instead to take the horses.
Another point that was brought up by the lawyer was the cost associated with the boarding of the horses.
According to the lawyer the cost of boarding is $25 per day per horse and because of state statues Watonwan County is already on the hook for over $60,000 according to the lawyer.
″ They simply should be returned to Mr. Johnson’s farm,” the lawyer stated.
During his presentation Johnson’s lawyer also explained that his client felt threatened by Agent Streff who brought two armed deputies with him and he felt like he had no choice to comply with his orders because he was told that they would be seized anyways.
″ Quite frankly my client was scared,” he said.
One of the reasons given for some of the horses having longer hooves is because of the weather making it hard for the horses to run around because of the ground.
He explained that process for trimming the hooves is also not like trimming human fingernails. He explained that it’s an intensive process and requires a professional in order for it to be done right.
While Watonwan County Commissioner Chair Scott Sanders did note that he is very concerned about the situation he asked for time for the commissioners to get more information.
When asked if Watonwan County would be on the hook for any of the cost associated with the boarding Streff said that Johnson, Streff and Dr. Kittleson made an agreement saying that if Streff turned over the horses to the Vet after the investigation was completed then the Vet and Johnston would pay the cost for the boarding.
During a visit to the Vet Clinic where Michael Johnson’s horses are being boarded and some hooves being cared for the Plaindealer was shown a copy of a bill made out to the Watonwan County Sheriff’s Office for the amount of $43,037.20
According to the Vet no agreement was made where Johnson or herself would be responsible for the cost of boarding.
According to Watonwan County Auditor Kelly Pauling a bill was not submitted to the Auditor’s office for payment.
The bill was not presented or discussed during yesterday’s Commissioners meeting.
Criminal investigation continues
According to a search warrant signed by Mark Slater, Watonwan County Investigator on June 21 he was informed by Sergeant Barry Gulden that he had received an anonymous complaint of animal neglect.
The caller stated that there were numerous dead ponies at the Johnson horse farm.
Gulden told Slater that he had went to the farm where he noticed several ponies that were not cared for and some with hoofs that were 3 or 4 inches long and starting to curl making it difficult for them to walk.
The Sergeant also located a pony that appeared to be dead for some time in the same pen as the other ponies.
Gulden called Animal Humane Society agent for Southern Minnesota Keith Streff who joined the two on June 22 when they went to visit with Streff to talk to him about the complaint made against him.
During the meeting Johnson was told that Gulden had taken photographs of the farm the day before.
According to the search warrant Johnson invited the three officers to check out the farm and to see the ponies themselves.
Johnson according to the search warrant told them that he knew a few of the ponies had overgrown hooves. Johnson told the officers that he tried to hire someone to do it but they did not show up.
The search warrant also goes on to say that the issue wasn’t taken care of for at least and that it was his fault.
The search warrant describes the scene of the farm as having poor living conditions and that the horses had to walk through manure in some areas the manure was halfway up their legs.
Ponies had to walk through mud to get their feed.
Several of the ponies hooves were 6-8 inches overgrown according to the warrant.
Johnson also told them that there were two more dead baby ponies on the farm.
During an phone interview with the Plaindealer Streff called the scene of the farm one of the significant cases of animal neglect he has seen.
According to the agent he is confident about 75-80% of the horses showed catastrophic problems with their hooves and that there were many signs of long term neglect of the animals.
″ Let there be no doubt that the hoof care of the horses are catasphrophic,” the agent stated.
Streff explained that they followed proper procedure when dealing with the situation and that after interviewing Johnson and exploring the farm he determined that he can’t or won’t take care of the animals to meet minimum lawful conditions for the animals and that is why he made the decision to have the animals seized.
Last week the Watonwan County Attorney released the following press release regarding the horse farm as the criminal investigation continues.
Although this matter continues to be investigated, the Watonwan County Sheriff’s Office and Watonwan County Attorney’s Office have determined it is appropriate to release several photographs of the conditions at Michael Johnson’s farm on June 20, 2018, that led to the removal of his horses. Please be advised that some of these images might be disturbing to more sensitive viewers.
The photos released to the Plaindealer are available on the Plaindealers Facebook page or online.