Because Santa Ana Police fucked up the raid of a house that had drawn neighborhood complaints about filth, stench and a 117 mangy cats, animal cruelty and child abuse charges were dismissed against five adults living there, an Orange County Superior Court judge has essentially ruled.
As another judge had previously done for three other family members in the case–including the 69-year-old patriarch who had already cut a plea deal and received a sentence from a court commissioner–Judge Gregg Prickett on Tuesday dismissed misdemeanor and felony counts against the remaining two defendants.
That action (or lack thereof) came after prosecutor Aleta Bryant told Judge Prickett she could not proceed against Courtney Lynn Howe-Perez and Sharon Lynn Howe, according to their attorney Sherilyn McDonald.
Bryant's case was essentially undone by Judge Patrick Donahue, who granted a defense motion to suppress evidence against Sharon Howe's husband John Ed Howe, her daughter Kerri Lynn Howe Moreno and her son-in-law Jessy Moreno based on the way Santa Ana cops raided the home.
“The officers had plenty of time to get a warrant and they did not do that,” McDonald told City News Service's courtroom reporter Paul Anderson. “They stood outside for three hours harassing the people and they claim they got consent, but the consent was, 'Look, we can come in or force our way in.'”
Bryant tried to keep the case alive after Donahue's decision, “But, unfortunately, because of the court's ruling on the motion to suppress, which was almost my entire case, I wasn't able to proceed,” Bryant explained to Anderson.
“I would have loved to, but based on the state of the evidence I was left with I couldn't prove the case beyond the reasonable doubt. It had nothing to do with the merits or the substance of the case.”
Two girls, then 6 and 12, were put in the care of other adults after Animal Services officers from the Santa Ana Police Department went to the residence and–before even entering–were overcome by the stench of urine and feces and sight of live and dead flies congregating around the windows and doors.
Officers entered the home wearing paper masks but had to leave after only a few minutes due to feeling ill from the overwhelming odor. They returned wearing full hazmat gear including body suits and respirators. They found feces and urine stains all over the floors and other surfaces, as well as cat hair, roaches and flies.
Officers discovered one child slept in the living room on a couch, surrounded by cats and constantly exposed to the smell of feces and urine. The second child slept in a bedroom under the same conditions. At least one child had scratches from the cats on her arms and legs. Both girls had cat feces caked on their feet from walking barefoot in the home.
Child Protective Services was contacted, but were not admitted into the home due to the health and safety risks. Jesse Moreno later found the girls a temporary home.
Animal Services reported 110 cats were captured inside of the house, many of them feral. Each was taken in separate carriers for examination and medical treatment. More than 20 had to be euthanized, while all survivors had severe flea infestations. Half suffered serious upper respiratory infections, 25 percent had ear mites, and 25 percent had fecal and urinary contamination of their coats. The total veterinary cost to treat 110 cats exceeded $10,000.
The prosecution was built on the adults having allegedly used their home to house unwanted cats, obtaining felines from animal shelters under the pretense of operating a rescue organization that would find the animals permanent homes.
McDonald told the news service reporter that Howe-Perez had been involved for a couple of years with animal rescue groups and, “as more and more of these places couldn't find foster homes she thought, 'I'll take them in and try to find homes for them.' It was a misguided way of trying to help the animals.”
The lawyer claimed there was no evidence the girls were ever endangered.