Tuesday, 28 March 2023

Supervisors receive advisory board report on animal control officer neglect case

LAKEPORT – Lake County's Animal Care and Control Advisory Board gave the Board of Supervisors a brief report on Tuesday regarding its findings in a horse neglect case involving a county animal control officer.

Advisory board members Grant Murray, John Gay and Dr. Susan Cannon, the group's chair, spoke to the supervisors about the case of Officer Terrie Flynn, who in February signed over an injured stallion and later gave another horse to rescue.

She had six horses in all, one of which belonged to her mother-in-law, Animal Care and Control Director Denise Johnson, as Lake County News has reported.

Deputy Director Bill Davidson wrote notices of violation on the horses due to the stallion's injury and his weight, as well as the weights of the other horses, which were considered too thin.

Earlier this month, the Animal Care and Control Advisory Board sent a letter to the supervisors outlining their findings in the case.

Cannon, who authored that letter, told the board Tuesday that the advisory board's original purpose in looking into the case was to determine if Flynn had received special treatment or was treated differently.

“Our conclusions were that, yes, she was treated different,” Cannon said.

What the advisory board hasn't been able to conclude is whether or not that special treatment was intentional, she added.

By the time the advisory board started looking into the case, it had been handed off to a Mendocino County Animal Control officer who was brought in to investigate the case, according to Cannon.

The horses were discovered in their condition while Flynn was out of state on Feb. 5. Senior Animal Control Officer George Hodgson began his investigation on Feb. 16, according to the case documents.

Referring to Hodgson's report, Cannon said, “That report, we believe, was poorly done.”

It was “superficial,” and failed to ask and answer important questions, she said.

Hodgson's report found no criminal wrongdoing. It also found no violations, said Cannon, in spite of the fact that Davidson had written notices of violation at the scene. By the time the advisory board became involved, those notices of violation had either been nullified or voided, she said.

“In essence there was nothing that was going to be done” from a legal standpoint, Cannon added.

But what the investigation failed to answer, said Cannon, was if the horses were being properly cared for by Flynn, who Cannon said appeared to be able to walk away with no repercussions.

Since then, according to Cannon, Davidson has stated that he disagreed with Hodgson's conclusions.

Regarding the notices of violation, Cannon said the advisory board was told two things about them – that they had been nullified and that Davidson, who originally had issued them, felt he had been told to back away from the case while Hodgson handled it.

Cannon said the notices were reinstated after the advisory board became involved and started asking questions. She noted that Animal Care and Control has been following up on the animals' care, and that some of the horses have been moved.

“So everything's under control at this point,” she said.

Cannon, who said she has been involved in examining at least half a dozen such cases, said a normal private citizen would have been looked at over several months, with Animal Care and Control visiting their property.

“In that sense, yeah, she was treated differently,” Cannon said of Flynn.

Cannon asked if it was intentional, or if that different treatment resulted because the investigation was started and stopped, then taken up by someone else.

Regarding the Mendocino County report, Cannon said the advisory board concluded either that the officer was “incompetent,” had bias toward Flynn or that Mendocino County has much lower standards for animal control than those of Lake County.

When Gay and Murray were asked if they had anything to add, Murray said Cannon had covered it exactly.

“You know, it's a balancing act when we're dealing with personnel issues,” said Board Chair Anthony Farrington.

Even so, he said he believes transparency is prudent and the right thing to do.

“The board is taking this very seriously,” he assured the advisory board members. “We've embarked upon an independent investigation.”

Farrington said that was all that the board could disclose about the case at that time. “We hope to reach a conclusion in the near future,” he said.

“Where does this stand?” asked Supervisor Denise Rushing. “What's the timing of the independent investigation?”

County Counsel Anita Grant said the independent investigation was expected to be completed on Wednesday. Officials had previously stated that they were bringing in a third-party investigator to conduct the inquiry.

Grant added that she spoke with Sheriff Rod Mitchell on Tuesday morning, and that the matter also is being actively investigated criminally.

Rushing said one of the advisory board's recommendations in its letter is that county animal control officers should be treated the same as anyone else.

“I'm going to say that I think they should be held to a higher standard,” said Rushing.

“Because this is an employee of the county, we have added responsibility on top of that,” she continued. “Whatever comes out of this investigation we need to be very clear about that.”

Farrington said he agreed “wholeheartedly” with Rushing.

“I believe we have to lead by example,” he said.

Farrington added that he thinks the independent investigation undertaken by the county was the most prudent way of handling the case.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .

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