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Defaced cattle case moves up to District Court

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Sarah Pridgeon with the Sundance Times, via the Wyoming News Exchange

Defense argues cost to restore animals could have been avoided using hair dye

SUNDANCE — The case of the defaced herd is moving up to District Court following a preliminary hearing last week, at which the prosecution argued that restoring the cows to their previous condition cost the alleged victim thousands of dollars.

Two ranchers are accused of using bleach to paint markings, including drawings of penises, on a total of 189 cows and six bulls belonging to their neighbor.

Father-son duo Patrick Sean and Tucker Carroll claimed their actions were intended to bring their neighbor’s attention to the problem of broken fences that weren’t being fixed quickly enough.

The markings led to an alleged loss in value for the cattle of approximately $141,750.

The original case was filed last fall, but later dismissed when the 6th Judicial Circuit Court found that the testimony given did not address the cost of restoring the injured property, which is an element required by the statute.

At the preliminary hearing last week, Circuit Court Judge Lynda Bush was tasked with deciding whether there is probable cause that a felony has been committed.

Only one witness was called: Undersheriff Alex Jessen, who investigated the case. Under questioning from prosecutor Joe Baron, he reiterated the particulars of the alleged crime.

The Sheriff’s Office received a complaint from a county rancher on June 21, 2023 stating that a neighbor had “bleached” his cows.

Two witnesses observed and took photographs of the neighbor’s corral, which was full of cattle that Sean Carroll was “marking” with bleach while two other men were helping push the cattle through the alley and chute.

Pictures were taken the next day, when the cattle were found back in the victim’s pasture. They showed heifers that had been bleached all along their back; some had marks around their face and one had, according to the affidavit, “what appeared to be an attempt at drawing a penis on her ribs”.

According to court reports, Carroll admitted that he had decided it was time to get the victim’s attention so, with his son, Tucker, he used the bleach and “marked them up pretty good.”

Tucker confirmed the story, according to court reports. He stated that the idea was to make a statement, because “enough was enough.”

Patrick Sean Carroll is charged with felony counts of property destruction and defacement and conspiracy to commit property destruction and defacement. Tucker Carroll faces the same two charges, as well as one of aiding property destruction and defacement.

Jessen testified regarding the efforts that have been made to figure out how much it cost to restore the cows to their original condition. He stated from the witness stand that the victim was contacted by multiple ranchers after the event, offering to buy the bred heifers at a “drastically reduced price.”

The victim was also concerned, Jessen said, about the unknowable effects of stress from two additional runs through the chute, which could potentially harm the cows’ immune systems and affect pregnancies.

With this in mind, he said, the victim felt that there was a risk to any buyer, and that selling cows that later turned out to have been harmed by the incident could damage his future relationships with buyers.

Jessen said that the livestock investigator with whom he discussed the case confirmed this was a “very plausible reason.”

The victim, he said, planned to hold on to the cattle until the markings had grown out and the animals had seen a healthy calving season and had calves by their sides, in order to show they were healthy and thus restored back to their original value.

On October 23, Jessen said, the victim contacted him to say the markings were all but gone. He estimated that the cost to maintain the cows until the hair had returned to its normal state was approximately $19,500.

Jessen gave an estimated date of June for the calves to mature to the point of proving the health of the cows and their offspring, at which point they could be sold as a pair. Bearing in mind costs including pasture, feed and veterinarian care, he estimated a total cost of $136,836.

During cross-examination and closing arguments, the Carroll’s joint lawyer, Seth Shumaker, suggested that these estimates have several flaws.

Cow-calf pairs sell for more than a bred heifer, he said, while the market has changed during the time period in question. Shumaker also suggested that there was an alternative to the steps taken by the victim to restore the value of the cows: he could have used hair dye.

Jessen was asked why the victim did not consider this route; in response, he said that it would have been considered dishonest and that he was told by the livestock inspector that it would be a “frowned upon” practice because he would be “essentially covering up something that happened.”

Baron requested in closing arguments that the charges be bound over to District Court, stating that there is no question the events occurred, who the defendants are, who the victim was and that there was a lack of consent from the victim for the Carrolls to paint his cows.

This, he said, reduces the question to whether the cost of restoring the value of the property was over $1000.

Shumaker argued that the state had not proven probable cause for a felony charge because the property was not destroyed.

“We’ve got, at best, injured property,” he said.

Bush determined that all counts would be bound over and imposed a $5000 unsecured bond on the Carrolls.

This story was published on May 22, 2024.

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