Officials Launch Animal Cruelty Investigation

By on August 10, 2017


JACKSON HOLE, WY – A video (above) posted to Facebook Wednesday showing a local outfitter tying a horse to a post by its hind legs has gone viral and sparked an animal cruelty investigation. The horse died Tuesday evening. Investigators now have to determine if the actions shown in the video directly contributed to the horse’s death, and if the “intent was to injure or kill” the animal, Sergeant Todd Stanyon said.

Eyewitnesses identified Forest Stearns, owner of Stearns Outfitters, as the owner of the horse. Stearns’s neighbor Mary Wendell Lampton shot the video.

Lampton told PJH she walked out of the cabin she rents behind Stearns’s property at around 5:30 Tuesday night, and clearly saw a horse “strung up on his back, struggling.”

She said she then approached Stearns and shot the video up close. The video shows Stearns tying the horse’s back legs to a post in his round pen, then the horse kicking and struggling on the ground, on its side.

Stearns could not be reached for comment.

Lampton has owned a handful of horses from 10 years of playing polo. She’s no vet, but says she knows enough to understand horses cannot be on their backs or their sides for extended periods of time like Stearns’s was. “To struggle on his back and side would twist the guts, which is an excruciating death,” Lampton said. “It causes it to colic.” The weight of the horse can also crush its lungs, Lampton said.

She called the cops on her neighbor, and went back two hours later to check on the situation. She says she saw the horse “pulled fully taught,” with a pale blue blanket draped over it. She went back just after dark, and the horse was dead. His body had been dragged somewhere else. Yesterday afternoon, the horse’s body was found in a blue trailer on Stearns’s property.

A still from the video above that Mary Wendell Lampton captured of her neighbor and his now deceased horse.

Initial reports on the animal’s death from Fish Creek Veterinary Clinic are pending.

Stearns already has a criminal history in Teton County, including a handful of DUIs for which he was found guilty. He was dismissed on charges for “unlawful contact: rude, insolent or angry touch without bodily injury,” and one count of battery against a household member, according to court records.

Stanyon said the sheriff’s department has contacted local veterinary offices, livestock boards, and other “experts in the field” to determine if the situation Lampton witnessed is indeed animal cruelty. The problem, Stanyon said, is such a charge is difficult to prove. “We’re stuck with the laws as they are written and given to us,” he said. “Even though we have an emotional reaction to that, proving it statutorily is a whole different thing.”

Animal cruelty is a misdemeanor in Wyoming. The maximum penalty is six months in prison and up to $750 in fines. “In my personal opinion, it’s one of those things Wyoming is lacking in,” Stanyon said. Meaning the law is vague, and the punishment is minimal. There’s no difference, Stanyon said, if the animal in question dies or not. It’s still just a misdemeanor, unless someone other than the animal’s owner inflicts the damage.

In this case, investigators will have to prove that Stearns’s treatment of the horse was, in fact, intentionally cruel and not just part of his training practice.

Stanyon said the sheriff’s department has received at least 20 calls since the video was posted to Facebook, plus quite a few emails. He understands the emotional response, he said, but unless it’s firsthand witness information, it “won’t change our minds in terms of whether we investigate, or how we investigate … the community has a soft spot for animals and rightly so, but we have to go by procedure and by the law. We’re not going to go after somebody because of community outrage, but we’re not going to shirk our duties either.”



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