Case Snapshot
Case ID: 15330
Classification: Neglect / Abandonment
Animal: horse
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Saturday, Feb 14, 2009

County: Park

Charges: Misdemeanor
Disposition: Alleged

» Brian Michael Francis
» Stephanie Francis - Convicted

Case Updates: 3 update(s) available

A Deaver couple faces 78 charges of animal cruelty after allegedly failing to provide enough food for their horses.

Charges filed Friday in Circuit Court allege that Brian Michael Francis, 24, and Stephanie Francis, 22, neglected their 25 mares and 14 studs and geldings penned in a Ralston corral.

Despite being seized for emergency veterinary care, one of the horses was later put down due to its poor health.

Michael Francis told a sheriff's deputy that he could not afford to feed them, according to documents in the case.

The Francises have since turned over the remaining 38 horses to regional law enforcement agencies.

The Park County Sheriff's Department began investigating the animals' treatment on Feb. 14 after receiving an anonymous tip.

In the affidavit of probable cause filed in the case, Sheriff's Deputy Jessica Campbell wrote that at the time, there appeared to be "absolutely no sort of feed on the ground in the (Ralston) corrals."

"It appeared that all of the horses were eating manure and feces as their main source of food," she wrote.

Campbell observed that a horse had apparently chewed a hole in one of the corral's wooden panels to get access to hay in an adjoining pen.

Noting that some of the horses were "barely alive," Campbell returned to the Lane 11 site on Feb. 15 to take stock of the animals.

Using the Henneke Body Score System, 26 of the 39 horses were found to be thin or very thin, the affidavit says.

While deputies worked to measure the horses, one of the mares collapsed, and could not get back up.

When volunteers provided it with food and water, the horse drank six gallons of water and ate the hay it was provided.

Campbell contacted the Francises at their Deaver home on Feb. 16.

"(Michael) Francis said that he knew we (law enforcement officers) would be contacting him about the horses sooner or later," Campbell wrote in the affidavit.

Francis said that his truck had been repossessed and that he did not have the transportation or money to get feed to the horses.

According to the affidavit, Francis told Campbell that every four days, he would leave two round bales of hay for the 25 mares, and one round bale of hay for the 14 gelding/studs. That, Francis said, was all he could afford at $40 a bale.

The 39 charges Michael and Stephanie Francis each face all are misdemeanors, each punishable by up to six months in jail and $750 in fines.

A preliminary hearing is scheduled for March 3, at 11 a.m. at the Powell Annex Courtroom.

Case Updates

A 23-year-old Deaver woman accused of starving more than three dozen horses last winter must pay about $2,900 in court fees and restitution.

Stephanie Francis also will be placed on probation for the next five years after pleading guilty to 10 misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty.

As part of a plea agreement with the Park County Attorney's office last week, 29 other cruelty charges were dismissed. During her unsupervised probation, she may not possess or be the primary caregiver for any horses or livestock.

She and her husband, Brian Michael Francis, each were charged with 39 counts of animal cruelty in February after Park County Sheriff's deputies found 39 horses in poor health on their rented property outside Ralston.

Michael Francis has pleaded not guilty to the charges and is scheduled for trial on Oct. 15.
Source: Billings Gazette - Aug 25, 2009
Update posted on Oct 24, 2009 - 7:05PM 
A couple charged with failing to provide enough food for their horses in Park County have pleaded not guilty to animal cruelty.

Michael and Stephanie Francis, of Deaver, each face 39 counts of animal cruelty.

Documents filed by prosecutors allege that the majority of the 39 horses were thin, with some in danger. One was put down because of its poor condition.

After entering a plea Tuesday in circuit court, Michael Francis said the account of the case given by law enforcement had "a lot of false statements." He declined further comment.

According to authorities, the couple weren't feeding the horses properly because they didn't have the money.

As part of their current bond conditions, the couple may not own horses or other livestock while the case is pending.
Source: Montana's News Station - March 5, 2009
Update posted on Mar 8, 2009 - 9:19PM 
Most of the horses involved in a county animal-cruelty case are recovering in new homes.

"Certainly, looking at those horses now, you wouldn't know they were starving to death 10 days ago," said Cody veterinarian Lynne Chadwick. Chadwick helped assess and treat the animals as part of a Park County Sheriff's Department investigation.

After receiving an anonymous tip on Feb. 14, sheriff's deputies found 39 horses, living in corrals near Ralston, with no food and little water.

One of the horses collapsed while being inspected by deputies, and was put down later by Chadwick.

The horses' owners, Michael and Stephanie Francis of Deaver, each face 39 counts of animal cruelty.

Michael Francis ultimately signed the horses' ownership over to Park County.

Brand inspector Dan Hadden said folks in the Powell and Cody area quickly volunteered to take in the equines.

"They all went to good homes," Hadden said.

He said 10 of the horses actually belong to a Montana man who plans to reclaim his animals.

Chadwick said that, in her 40 years of experience, this case was the worst she's seen.

Using a horse-scoring system, 26 of the 39 animals were found to be thin or very thin, according to documents filed in the criminal case.

"Certainly, it couldn't have gone on much longer," Chadwick said.

She praised the Sheriff's office's prompt and thorough response.

According to court documents, Michael Francis told law enforcement he didn't have the money or transportation to adequately feed the animals.

Jim Siler, law enforcement administrator with the Wyoming Livestock Board, said it is increasingly common that owners can't afford to keep their animals.

In 2007, the livestock board took in 43 strays. In 2008, they took 96.

Siler said that, based on the first three months of 2009, it looks like this year's number of abandoned animals will be even higher.

"It's a growing deal, and it's costing us money," he said.

The increased cost to take care of livestock " including horses " has made the finances difficult for owners and the livestock board.

The state-run board is charged with taking in abandoned animals and is involved in animal seizures.

Siler said there is a better option than dumping animals at a neighbor's pasture or illegally letting them starve: State law allows cash-strapped owners to voluntarily turn their animals over to the livestock board.

"People can say 'I can't care for these animals anymore,'" Siler said.

The taxpayer-funded board absorbs the losses.

"It is an easy way to do it, and it's a lot cheaper for us than when they just turn them out," Siler said.

Rounding up abandoned animals and trying to find the rightful owner takes time and money, he said.
However, Siler said most people will not preemptively give their animals to the board " hoping that their luck will change.
Source: Powell Tribune - Feb 26, 2009
Update posted on Mar 8, 2009 - 9:18PM 


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