A petition to have a grand jury investigate claims of animal cruelty at the Valencia County Animal Control Shelter has now been assigned to Deputy District Attorney Lee McMillian of the 7th Judicial District in Estancia.
This will be McMillian’s first case in regards to animal cruelty. However, he has been a criminal defense lawyer in New Mexico for 13 years.
“No, I have never handled a case like this,” said McMillian Monday, when asked about the nature of the case against the Valencia County Animal Control Shelter.
“We’ve had a couple of animal cruelty cases out here with dogs attacking horses,” McMillian said, but nothing compared to the charges about the Valencia County shelter.
For McMillian, the case would begin by gathering the necessary paper work.
“From the paperwork I’ve seen, I would like to gather up the evidence,” McMillian said. “I need to see pictures. I need to have statements.”
“There’s also the question of who we are going to charge with a crime here. If I determine that a law has not been broken, then I will not convene a grand jury.”
Marcy Britton, a promoter of animal rights who first launched the petition for an investigation in July, 2001, hopes that the case progresses at a faster rate with McMillian now in charge.
“It (the case) sat with the judges for more than a year,” Britton said.
District Attorney Lemuel Martinez of the 13th Judicial District originally had the case, but with so many close ties to people in Valencia County, he passed the case to District Attorney Clint Wellborn of Socorro. From Wellborn, the case went to McMillian.
“McMillian says he knows nobody in the case,” Britton said in a telephone interview Monday.
“I don’t know when he is going to start, but I am very optimistic that this will improve the lives of animals.”
According to Britton, there are 31 witnesses who will testify in the grand jury investigation, which will be paid for by the state. McMillian cannot comment, because the case is still pending.
Allegations that animals were kept out in the cold during winter months is one of the main shelter issues that Britton would like to see addressed.
“Every winter, animals freeze,” Britton alleged. “I almost had to file an emergency injunction to shut it down because the dog houses that were donated were not used.”
“At the very minimum, you need to get the animals out of the weather. To violate state and county regulations, that will definitely be looked at by the grand jury.
“This has been going on for 12 years. Witnesses used to see dead, frozen piles of animals. It was just open steel cages, not protected from the weather or anything. People would drop them off, and they would be dead by the next morning. I had those drop boxes dismantled.”
In a recent meeting of the Valencia County Animal Control Advisory Committee, Linda Cisneros, animal control director, said, “The most important issue now is to enclose the kennels.”
From a recent bond issue that produced $200,000, Cisneros hopes that money can be used to enclose the shelter, but she needs approval from the county commission.
“My hands are tied unless they let me go ahead and take bids,” Cisneros said Monday. “I’ve been trying to do that since I’ve been here.”
The advisory committee has been meeting for the past three months to recommend changes to the current Animal Control Ordinance.
However, Britton does not think the ordinance requires changes.
“Every other shelter in the country is operating under a similar ordinance, and they are able to prosecute animal cruelty cases,” Britton said.
“Linda has to spend a lot of time cleaning up the kitty litter at the shelter,” said Committee Chairperson Judy Babcock. “That’s why she doesn’t have time to investigate animal cruelty cases.”
“I spend half of my days cleaning the cat room, but when you are short-handed, everybody pitches in,” Cisneros said.
Britton points out that no animal cruelty cases have been prosecuted since Cisneros took over in November, 2001.
“It’s been 10 months since Cisneros took over, and not a single animal cruelty has been prosecuted,” Britton said.
When contacted Monday for her comment, Cisneros replied that she’s been on the job eight months and has “done some investigations and some kennel inspections.”
“The animal rights people wanted me to shut them down and take their animals away,” Cisneros said. “Under the law, I could not do that. There were no violations.”
In the meantime, it remains to be seen when the grand jury investigation into alleged shelter abuses will begin.