A district court judge has granted a motion to convene a grand jury to look into claims including animal cruelty at the Valencia County Animal Control Shelter.
District Court Judge Camille Martinez-Olguin signed the order Monday after reviewing the wording of a petition that asked for the grand jury investigation. The judge said she needed time to research case law about whether the language on the petition properly indicated the jurisdiction of the allegations.
The petition, which was signed by more than 600 Valencia County residents, calls for an investigation into “allegations of animal cruelty, inhumane treatment of animals, malfeasance and misappropriation of funds in relation to the operation and practices of animal control.”
Animal rights activist Marcy Britton launched the petition drive in July in hopes a grand jury would investigate her claims about the county’s animal shelter. Britton, who lives in Albuquerque, said she became involved after she learned of and personally witnessed several incidents at the shelter.
“I believe there is a very strong case, with over 35 witnesses and 23 criminal elements, that will support criminal indictments for animal cruelty, mismanagement of funds and deficiencies in the operation of animal control,” Britton said after she learned the judge had signed the order.
“Taxpayers of Valencia County have had to endure the despair and danger of a completely malfunctioning animal control agency. The suffering of the animals is my primary motivation to go forward,” she said.
Britton said nothing had been done about cruelty and neglect cases reported to the animal control office and also charged that the euthanasia practices of the shelter in Los Lunas were inhumane. The animal rights activist also claims that animals have been left outside in the cold weather.
Britton, who successfully sued the Albuquerque Animal Control Shelter several years ago, said the Valencia County department was undermanned and that animal control officers were not adequately trained.
County Manager James Fernández said Tuesday he had not been informed that the judge had signed the order.
“The county will cooperate with the courts in providing any information that is needed and required,” Fernández said when told about the judge’s ruling.
Britton’s attorney, Laura Boyett of Los Lunas, said she thinks Martinez-Olguin did the right thing by ordering a grand jury investigation.
“I hope this will help the situation in Valencia County,” Boyett said. “The real issue is animal cruelty, and I think this will help things in this county.”
The order will now be forwarded to District Attorney Lemuel Martinez to present to the grand jury. Martinez will have the option of taking the case or giving it to a special prosecutor or the attorney general’s office.
Martinez said Tuesday that, because he hadn’t yet received a copy of the order, he couldn’t comment on the case. The district attorney did say he would make a decision about whether his office will present it in front of a grand jury after he can review the judge’s order.
Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.