By Bruce A. Smith
Pierce County Animal Control has announced that Dr. John L Diller has filed a petition for the return of his 39 horses seized by the PCAC in late September.
Julie Anderson, the Pierce County Auditor and chief of animal control, issued a press release saying that her office had received the petition. In response, Diller and the county are due in court on November 1, 2012 to resolve the equine case, the largest seizure of horses in the history of the PCAC.
However, a larger and more troubling issue still remains. The US Drug Enforcement Administration has still not filed any charges against Dr Diller despite its fifty-page affidavit of alleged wrong doing, most notably the over-prescription of pain killers and narcotics.
Earlier, DEA officials had raided Dr. Diller’s property on Meridian in Graham seeking his medical and billing records, and apparently observed Diller’s 39 horses living in intolerable condition. According to the county, the DEA then alerted the PCAC, who subsequently rescued the horses.
Emily Langlie, the public information officer for the US Attorney General’s office in Seattle, told the Mountain News last week that “there’s nothing new,” regarding the Diller drug allegations. “We have a lot of information to go through that we retrieved from the search warrant,” she said.
Dr Diller is a family practice physician, maintaining a private medical office in Puyallup. In addition to the DEA issues, Diller’s license to practice medicine has currently been placed on probation for two years by the state Department of Health’s Medical Quality Assurance Commission. The MQAC assessed the penalty due to issues with Dr. Diller’s medical record keeping, most notably his failure to document adequate treatment planning and services.
In the meantime, county taxpayers are taking care of Diller’s horses. The primary issue appears to be the questionable condition of the stables at the Diller property.
Dr. David Best, a respected Graham horse vet, told the Mountain News that he was at the Diller ranch when the PCAC arrived and claimed he was “dumbfounded” that the county seized the horses.
Best says he didn’t see any medical conditions that would warrant taking the horses. However, he did acknowledge that one horse had a minor eye irritation, as if a speck of dust may have blown into an eye.
“They (the PCAC) showed me the horse with a possible eye problem and honestly, I couldn’t see anything wrong,” Best said.
Nevertheless, Dr Best did say that the barns and stable areas were “wet” and may have needed attention.
“I went over there to do a job, to attend to the horses – not to inspect the barns,” Dr. Best said. “I never felt that he (Diller) ever abused his horses.”
Dr. Best said that he attended to Dr. Diller’s horses several times a year.
“I know he (Diller) loves those horses,” Best said. “I think the horses were his way to decompress (from the pressures of being a physician).”
Dr. Best also said that he believed that Dr Diller was the primary family member caring for the horses.
“John took most of the responsibilities for the horses – more so than his wife,” said Dr. Best.
Whether Dr. Diller is repairing his barns prior to his court hearing is unknown. The Dillers’ attorney, Lance Hestor, told the Mountain News during a phone interview that he thought a fix-up of the barns would resolve the animal abuse issue. In response, the Mountain News has asked for a site visit, but no invitation has been received. Further, direct communications with the Dillers has been unsuccessful.
Regardless, the county will apparently be taking a close look at the Diller ranch before letting the horses return. Ms. Anderson’s announcement specifically stated the legal parameters for release:
“(T)he burden will be upon the animal owner (Diller) to prove, by a preponderance of evidence, that the animals will not suffer future neglect or abuse and are not in need of being restored to health. The Judge will decide whether to return the horses to the animal owner with court imposed conditions or deny the petition which will allow Pierce County Animal Control to proceed with the adoption process.”
Further, the prospect of animal abuse criminal charges being filed is unclear. Anderson’s press release states: “If criminal charges are filed before the hearing date, the petition will be joined with the criminal case,” but Ms. Anderson later told the Mountain News in an email that the PCAC will deliver the case file to the Prosecutor’s Office after the November 1 petition hearing is concluded. However, she stressed that the hearing and the possibility of Diller receiving criminal charges are separate issues.
“This hearing is NOT related to the criminal investigation,” Anderson told the Mountain News in an email. “It simply provides the owner the opportunity to reclaim his property, pending trial. The judge could grant full, partial, or no release of the horses. The judge can also order conditions to be met prior to release, and / or an inspection plan to monitor the horses if returned. It’s difficult to anticipate what they judge may order.”
Nevertheless, Ms. Anderson reiterated her commitment to provide excellent care to Diller’s horses.
“The animals are still in our care and doing well. We do not know how long we will have custody of the horses.”
Assisting the PCAC is the Tacoma Equine Hospital.
“This entity has been – and continues to be – the primary veterinary service on this case,” Anderson told the Mountain News. “We work regularly with them, under contract.”
In a strange twist, the original vet attending the horses, Tricia Arnold, is no longer on the case, and in fact has left her employment at Tacoma Equine. However, Ms. Arnold has not been available to discuss her actions.
When asked if this occurrence reflected upon the case in any way, the PCAC’s Anderson said: “I know nothing about their (Tacoma Equine) personnel or staffing. We continue to be satisfied with their professional services.”
In another odd development, several supporters of Dr. Diller have contacted the Mountain News alleging that he is being railroaded by Big Government so that the Graham landfill on Meridian can expand across the roadway by seizing his lands. After much research, the Mountain News has not uncovered any evidence indicating that scenario exists. Rather, LRI, the division of Waste Connections that owns and operates the landfill, says that they have sufficient land and permits to continue receiving garbage at their current facility for decades. Several county agencies confirm that perspective, such as the Department of Health and the Solid Waste Advisory Commission.
© 2012 Bruce A. Smith