Two high profile animal abuse cases within Delaware county may be coming to an end after the Delaware County District Attorney moved to drop charges against two couples.
GROVE - Two high profile animal abuse cases within Delaware county may be coming to an end after the Delaware County District Attorney moved to drop charges against two couples.
On Monday, Jan. 30, Delaware County District Attorney Kenny Wright said his office has dropped the 10 counts of felony animal cruelty against Chris and Claire White of Jay, and six counts of felony animal cruelty and neglect against Lisa and Dennis Garcia of Colcord.
Both couples were charged in July 2016, after Delaware County Sheriff's deputies seized animals from their respective residences.
The move came after questions arose regarding the search warrant application affidavit, completed by Deputy Sean Meador in both cases.
Wright said after Delaware County Special District Court Judge Alicia Littlefield ruled to squash or suppress Meador's search warrant affidavit on Friday, Jan. 20, related to the July 2, 2016 search of the Garcia residence, he decided to take a look at both cases.
Wright said he, along with Assistant District Attorney Nick Lelecas reviewed both cases over the weekend.
"We have decided to dismiss all charges," Wright said. "The conclusion we drew after seeing everything based upon [Meador's] testimony in the Garcia case."
Wright said once he removed information from the affidavit application, similar to what was proved false in the Garcia case, he did not believe enough evidence remained to move forward with the charges against the Whites.
"From an ethical standpoint, I can't really move forward with [the charges] so we have to dismiss," Wright said.
In testimony on Jan. 20, Meador was questioned by Winston Connor II, the attorney for both couples, regarding the affidavit. He raised several concerns about the truthfulness of the document.
In her ruling, Littlefield admonished Meador after he admitted on the stand that several items within his affidavit were incorrect.
She repeatedly held up the page of the affidavit in question and said she, like all judges, expect to be told the truth in the information contained in documents presented by law enforcement members.
"It only takes one [lie], and there are three and that concerns me," Littlefield told Meador.
Initially, Lelecas reserved the right to file an appeal of Littlefield's ruling in the Garcia case.
On Monday, Wright said he allowed the five day deadline pass, without filing an appeal, after reviewing the case and Littlefield's decision.
Wright said he could only file the appeal, if in good faith, he believed Littlefield's ruling was incorrect.
"When you take his affidavit for the search warrant, from an analytical standpoint, and strike through everything that is incorrect or misleading, all you have left are his observations," Wright said, adding he did not believe the remaining information would support a search warrant.
Dana Gray, spokesperson for the Oklahoma Alliance for Animals, one of the animal rescue groups who provided assistance to the sheriff's office during the two investigations, said she was disappointed in Wright's decision to drop the charges.
"It is unfortunate that all of the evidence we believe exists could not be presented in the court and the criminal cases were dismissed," Gray said. "We will continue to do what we can to overcome animal abuse and neglect."
On Monday, Connor said he was glad the charges were dropped against his clients. However, he said the Whites are still waiting to have all of their animals returned.
In October 2016, Littlefield ruled the sheriff's office needed to return as many of the animals as possible to the Whites. This ruling came after a Sept. 6, 2016 ruling which required the sheriff's office, and animal rescue organizations, to "cease and desist" in adopting out the various dogs, cats and chickens seized.
"They still want all of their animals back, and hopefully that will happen," Connor said. "Then we'll be able to get rid of the [civil] contempt pending against the sheriff.
"We can't undo the spaying and neutering and what we believe to be the senseless killing of [some animals]," Connor said. "We want those that are alive returned.
"From day one, we have been asking about the animals, where they are and for their return. We still don't have all of the answers."
Connor noted that while many of the Whites' animals have been returned, the Garcias will not be as fortunate. The couple signed over the rights to their animals after their arrest.
"The whole issue of did they desire to give up their animals, no ... and was the giving up of their animals lawful, no," Connor said. "But that's not an issue we actively fought."
As for the future, Connor would only say he will make decisions about future litigation after consulting with the Garcias.
Wright said he has advised Delaware County Sheriff Harlan Moore to not seize animals in a neglect or cruelty case unless Wright personally goes to the scene to make sure things are done correctly, or that he is at least contacted personally to provide legal advice and counsel to the deputies.
He said the advisement is not necessarily a new guideline, but rather a recommendation, in order to stress the importance to be absolutely sure there is legal standing to take the animals.
"If we could go back in time, and do the cases over, there's a fair chance it would turn out differently," Wright said. "I don't think we were missing a lack of sufficient facts to support the [charges].
"What we were missing is an accurate affidavit for a search warrant."
Wright said in both cases, a member of his office reviewed the search warrant applications. He said he personally reviewed at least one of them.
"It's easily a good search warrant," Wright said. "The problem that it may not be true — there's no way (for) a reviewing DA to know."
Wright said nothing in the affidavits raised "red flags" until questions were raised about Meador's observations and statements attributed to the Whites and Garcias in his affidavits.
Wright said he often encourages deputies to use quotes, rather than paraphrasing, in order to ensure they get the information in their reports and affidavits correctly.
Wright said he is glad volunteers from the OAA, and other animal rescue organizations, provided the sheriff's office with assistance during these two cases, adding that the groups helped provide veterinary assistance for the animals, regardless of the outcome of the case.
"We are greatly appreciative," Wright said. "It's just unfortunate that things didn't work out in a different way in the long term."
Civil, criminal charges
Wright said the civil contempt of court charges remain filed against Moore.
"That decision," Wright said, "doesn't have anything to do with our decision. We applied what happened [in the Garcia case] to the White case."
He said he will wait to see if Connor moves to drop the charges. If not, he will assist the sheriff in his defense.
As of presstime, Wright said no charges have been filed by his office against Meador. However, Wright does anticipate a formal investigation will be opened against the deputy at a later date.
Multiple calls and text messages left for Moore were not returned as of presstime Monday.