Last March, state animal welfare agents executed a search warrant and exhumed the corpses of several dead pigs that a Swanville farmer allegedly shot to death and buried a day before the agents were scheduled to inspect the farm and check on the animals.
The dead pigs, and a reportedly emaciated live pig that agents also seized from Jerry Ireland’s Ireland Hill Farms, became evidence that led to the farmer eventually being charged with 13 counts of cruelty toward animals. But on Monday, defense attorney Hunter Tzovarras argued at a Waldo County Superior Court hearing that the search warrant was defective and the evidence turned up after it was executed by state agents should be suppressed by the court.
The defense attorney said at the motion to suppress hearing that he found several problems with the search warrant. The warrant gave limited information about exactly where to search and what to search for, he said, adding that he did not think the warrant included enough probable cause that a crime had been committed to search the property for evidence in the first place.
“Warrants have to be specific. The warrant doesn’t describe what animals or what evidence of alleged animal cruelty,” Tzovarras said. “Just a hunch or a feeling by an animal welfare agent is not probable cause. There’s simply no evidence to suggest there’s probable cause of a crime.”
Additionally, Tzovarras said he looked through case law for precedent and could not find a single other case that did not include the address of the place to be searched in the search warrant, which he said this warrant failed to do.
“If you read this affidavit in its entirety, you would have no idea where the farm is, what town it’s in or what county it’s in,” the defense attorney said. “The concern is that we can’t have judges signing warrants when there’s no sign that was the right place to be searched.”
But that position was not shared by Waldo County Assistant District Attorney Bill Entwisle, who told Superior Court Justice Robert Murray that evidence in the affidavit filed last March by Rae-Ann Demos of the Maine Animal Welfare Program did support a probable cause of criminality. He also said that the warrant gave specific information about possible sites where dead pigs had been buried on the property and was clear enough that inspectors in fact found dead pigs at those sites.
“They were looking for evidence of animal cruelty,” Entwisle said. “Animal cruelty is clearly what this is about.”
In the affidavit, Demos wrote that it is not a crime to “humanely euthanize one’s own animals,” but the timing of the shooting deaths of the pigs was suspicious.
“Due to the uncooperative behavior Mr. Ireland has exhibited over the last few months by denying access to check on the animals, not returning phone call requests and flat-out kicking officers off his property, and after speaking with neighbors who have confirmed the lack of care taking place on the property for days to weeks on end, I feel Mr. Ireland’s decision to execute all his animals just one day prior to my scheduled inspection leads me to believe he is covering up proof these animals may very well have been emaciated due to lack of consistent feeding and care,” Demos wrote in the affidavit filed in March at Belfast District Court.
Both Demos and Ireland took the witness stand during Monday’s hearing, which Murray explained was to determine whether the evidence seized had exceeded the scope of the warrant.
Demos told the court that she and other animal welfare officials specifically were looking for evidence of animal cruelty. They had brought a backhoe with them to the property, and when they started to dig, they found dead and buried pigs, some of which were Mangalitsas, a rare heritage breed.
She said at court that many of the removed pigs were very thin, with a body condition score of 2.5 on a scale of 1 to 9, with 1 being emaciated and nine being obese. One of the pig carcasses showed stab wounds in addition to a gunshot wound, she said.
In his cross-examination, Tzovarras asked her if she was aware that a warrant had to establish probable cause for a crime and if she had ever written any warrants before. She told him yes to both questions.
He had her sketch a map to Ireland’s farm at the witness stand and asked her if she knew the precise address on the Nickerson Road where she was when she had dug for the pigs.
According to Demos, there was some confusion about whether they were at 282 or 361 Nickerson Road. Tzovarras also asked her how she had made a determination about the animals’ body condition, and if she was aware that Mangalitsa pigs are “smaller and thinner” than other pigs. She answered that she didn’t know.
When Ireland took the witness stand for brief questioning, he essentially only told the court specifics about the location of the farm.
At the end of the hearing, Murray told the two attorneys that they should send him their written closing arguments by the middle of November and then would have another ten days to write their replies.
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