Darlene Wilson, Roy resident and long-time Arabian horse breeder, walked out of District Court on Friday, August 19 with one more reprieve from her animal cruelty conviction and sentence of last April, when she was ordered not to have any direct contact with horses and to make arrangements for others to care for her equines.
At her sentencing hearing last week, Judge Pat O’Malley granted Wilson a ten-day extension to deliver to the court a written list of boarders at her Carousel Stables, along with their contact information, such as phone numbers. Originally at sentencing on April 14, this had been ordered to be delivered to the court by July 15.
Also ordered was for Wilson to deliver a document clearly listing how many horses were stabled at her facility and who owns them. Specifically, Wilson must show who owns and maintains her former horses, which had numbered eleven at her sentencing in April, at which time she announced she had sold them and was only a landlord renting barn space.
A follow-up sentencing hearing has been scheduled for October 7, 2011.
Back on April 6, 2011, Ms. Wilson had been convicted in a jury trial on three counts of 2nd degree animal cruelty stemming from squalid conditions at her Carousel Stables, now known as the Mashallah Arabian.
At the time of her sentencing on April 14, Ms Wilson was about to be ordered to surrender her remaining eleven horses when she stunned the court and announced that she had sold them, adding that they still remained on her property in stalls that she was now renting to the new owner.
As a result, Judge O’Malley gave her ninety days, until July 15, to produce a bill of sale and other contractual documentation to prove her horse stall rental arrangements. In addition, Ms Wilson, who had on-going horse stall and exercise-area rental agreements with other horse owners, was instructed to include those business activities in the overall documentation for the court.
In short, Darlene Wilson was out of the horse business and only had to sit back and cash her rental checks.
However, it appears that little, if any, of this has been done to any substantive degree. Compounding the confusion, the July 15 sentencing hearing was postponed, and the subsequent one on July 29 was also rescheduled to the August 19 date.
Friday’s hearing then, was by turn, confused and bizarre. At one point it almost seemed like Ms. Wilson was being re-tried for her negligent care of her horses as she was sworn-in by Judge O’Malley to give explanations as to the current circumstances at her equine facilities.
Two salient issues, though, shown forth: One, the court wondered if Darlene participated in any way in the care of any horses, and two, was the barn cleaned up and operating in a professional manner.
Seeking clarification to these main issues, and sorting out the smaller but very important smaller details, such as how many horses were on the property and who was in charge of Darlene’s former equines, Judge O’Malley put Ms. Wilson’s new barn manager, Julie Marcel, on the witness stand under oath.
However, neither Wilson nor Marcel could give a clear picture of the situation at Mashallah. In particular, confusion reigned on questions of how many horses reside on Wilson’s property and who owns them. In fact, their testimony conflicted with each other, as Marcel claimed that Wilson had six boarders while Wilson said only four.
Further, the contracts produced by Marcel and signed by the boarders were characterized as illegible by Judge O’Malley, who claimed he could not read the signatures or determine the names of the boarders. In addition, the contracts apparently lacked any contact information or other identifiable information.
Facing this disarray, Judge O’Malley directly challenging Darlene if she owned any horses.
“No!” she thundered back.
“Are you assuming any duties in caring for any horses? Feeding them?
Darlene then launched into a soliloquy describing her many physical ailments, including a spiral injury that compels her to use a walker.
Clearly, Ms. Wilson does not have the physical capacity to perform much of any horse care, but the central question before the court is: Can Darlene Wilson arrange for others to provide adequate care for the horses on her property?
That is a tricky question and leads back to the primary issue at trial: What is adequate care and when does a prolonged marginal effort become criminal?
The court could certainly benefit from a clear perspective on this issue from Pierce County Animal Control, but the once-robust involvement of PCAC in this case seems to have waned.
To whit: no animal control officer was in court for the hearing Friday, and other than a letter from Animal Control Officer Jody Page to the deputy prosecutor, Susan Mason, PCAC apparently did not provide any documentation describing the sanitary conditions at Wilson’s horse barn.
In fact, in his summary remarks at the end of the sentence hearing, Judge O’Malley specifically stated that PCAC must submit a written report to the court describing conditions at Mashallah Arabian and he emphasized that he wants photographs taken as well.
Nevertheless, after O’Malley spent an hour’s worth of court time extracting information from Marcel and Wilson, along with hearing testimony from defense attorney Amanda Fernandez and rebuttals by Ms Mason, the following information was obtained.
First, there are four boarders at Ms. Wilson’s who care for twenty horses, including the eleven that Darlene owned formerly. Each of these boarders keeps their horses at Mashallah Arabian in a strict “100% self-care arrangement,” which means each boarder must provide all food and water, maintain the stalls and exercise their animals, and provide complete vet and farrier care for their equines. Simply, Marcel and Wilson will not provide any services whatsoever other than stall space.
Ms. Wilson said that she receives $1,000 per month in total from her stall rentals, and Judge O’Malley stated that he wants her to be able to maintain this modest level of income, which apparently is her only source of income other than a meager social security check.
Nevertheless, there is some confusion as to who exactly owns Wilson’s horses, and Julie Marcel told the Mountain News after court that a “Jeannette” owned them, but since Ms. Wilson said that two of her four boarders were named “Jeannette,” it was not clear which woman owned the horses.
Marcel also told the Mountain News that she did not know the last name of either Jeannette, and added that she did not know which one owned Darlene’s former horses.
Obviously, the question of who is caring for Wilson’s horses and are they doing so in full compliance with court instructions is unresolved.
The written letter to Ms. Mason from ACO Jody Page, who conducted at least three on-site inspections in recent months, reportedly says that sanitary conditions have been maintained at Wilson’s barn. This perspective has also been confirmed to the Mountain News by Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson, the head of Animal Control.
However, there appears to be a recent verbal report from ACO Page that was shared with the court via deputy prosecutor Mason, which claims that two of Wilson’s horses, under the care of the “Jeannette,” have been kept in filthy stalls that reeked of urine, which would seem to be a violation of Wilson’s sentencing.
Upon conclusion of the hearing, Ms. Mason did confirm to the Mountain News that ACO Page had made a fourth trip to Mashallah Arabian just prior to the sentencing and had observed unsanitary conditions.
For her part, Ms. Wilson refused to speak with the Mountain News despite numerous invitations to do so.
In addition, her attorney, Ms Fernandez, also declined to speak to the Mountain News or offer any kind of clarification to these matters.
However, the overall picture of what is happening at Mashallah Arabian seems to be one fraught with poor management and marginal conditions.
Wilson’s barn manager Marcel testified that she only goes to Wilson’s barn “about twice a month” and only stays for “about ten minutes… or sometimes an hour.”
Marcel said that her primary duty is to collect rent and evict tenants for non-payment. Further, she admitted that has not physically met all of the boarders, and only leaves contracts for them at their horses’ stall space.
“I’m really a financial manger,” said Marcel.
Illustrating the lack of adequate management at Mashallah, Marcel acknowledged that she had never spoken with ACO Page and stated further that Page had never called her, either.
In general, Ms. Marcel’s testimony added to the confusion, particularly in regards to her role at Wilson’s and how much involvement in horse care Ms. Wilson may actually have.
There are wide-spread reports that Darlene does keep her hand in the affairs at her ranch, and she did acknowledge one incidence of holding the reins of a horse owned by a boarder, Jeannette Fryar, during a medical inspection by the veterinarian Dr. Kirk.
But that was a minor incident compared to the apparent lack of overall barn supervision.
As Judge O’Malley appeared to bend over backwards to preserve Wilson’s revenue stream, it seemed to have fallen to deputy prosecutor Mason to hold the torch for justice, and she did so aggressively.
In her opening remarks, Mason told the court that she has received numerous complaints of on-going impropriety by Ms. Wilson since her conviction and sentencing.
In the first instance, Mason describes a phone call from a horsewoman named “Chris,” who does not want to go on record or submit anything in writing to the court for fear of reprisals from Ms. Wilson or her many friends in the horse industry who think she has been treated unfairly by the courts, the media and the PCAC.
Mason said that Chris had purchased two horses from Darlene at the beginning of Wilson’s troubles with the PCAC in 2010 that led to the impoundment of three equines and the subsequent surrender of nearly two-dozen to rescue organizations. Chris alleges that Darlene called her after the break-up of her forty-plus herd and wanted her two horses back.
Mason said another horse owner, one who had boarded at Wilson’s, had had her horses locked in their stalls by Darlene.
In addition, Wilson’s former barn manager, Kathy Cook, also submitted a lengthy letter to Ms. Mason and charged that unhealthy conditions continue at Darlene’s, and that it was a “huge slap in the face to the horse community that Darlene is allowed to have horses after her conviction.”
Also, Ms. Cook reportedly wrote that Darlene is threatening members of the horse community with legal action for speaking against her.
Perhaps most telling, Ms. Mason also told the court that Darlene has not received her mental health evaluation as ordered by O’Malley in April. When confronted by the judge on this issue, Wilson confirmed that she hadn’t gotten her psychiatric assessment and claimed it was due to a lack of funds.
“Ms Wilson is not in compliance with her sentencing,” Ms. Mason stated plainly to the court.
No one rose to disagree, but the central question is what to do about Darlene’s defiance and the iffy conditions at her barn. Wilson and her crew seem to be digging in their heels and doing the minimum to evade further legal charges, but O’Malley seems reluctant to physically remove Wilson from her home and her horses.
© 2011 the Mountain News – WA
Amy Pivetta Hoffman – Attorney at Law
All Civil and Governmental Matters
Member of the Frederickson Land Use Advisory Board
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