Man denies 3 felony counts of animal cruelty in cattle neglect case

465 cows taken from property, approximately 50 dead found by LE
Thursday, July 1, 2021
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A Stillwater County man has denied three felony counts of aggravated animal cruelty involving as many as 50 dead cows and hundreds of others that prosecutors allege were not given sufficient food or waters.

Jack Frank Myers, 42, appeared in 22nd Judicial District Court last Thursday and pleaded not guilty to each felony charge.

Specifically, prosecutors contend that Myers “purposely or knowingly inflicted cruelty to animals within a herd of ten (10) or more and did so when he failed to provide the 63 cows in his custody with food and water of sufficient quantity and quality to sustain the animals normal health,” according to court documents. The third count specifies that Myers alleged actions caused “at least sixteen (16) cows/calves located on the property to perish,” according to court documents.

The dates of the alleged acts are listed as May 26 and May 27, 2021, and “the winter and spring months leading up to the those dates.”

Law enforcement took a total of 465 cattle from the property to be transferred to a feedlot and properly cared for, according to court documents. That included 191 calves.

Stillwater County Attorney Nancy Rohde did not seek bond in the case, saying Myers had appeared at the hearing voluntarily and that he was a community member and not a flight risk.

Myers’ attorney, Jack Sands, asked Judge Matt Wald to release the cattle to Myers’ father because the absence of the cattle “is destroying” the economic viability of the ranch and they have bulls that need to mate.

Wald told Sands to file a motion and he would look at the issue at that time. Sands has filed such a motion.

THE CASE

At 6:30 p.m. on May 25, 2021, Stillwater County Undersheriff Randy Smith responded to Bokma Road on a report of dead cows in a corral, according to court documents. As Undersheriff Smith drove the road, he observed multiple cow/calf pairs on the north side of the road that appeared to be malnourished, with their ribs, hips and spines showing, according to court documents. Smith also saw the cattle’s hair was falling off, which indicated the presence of lice.

Smith confirmed the report of what appeared to be three dead cows in a corral. He noted that there were another 50 to 60 cows in the corral with no apparent hay or feed. All the cows and calves appeared malnourished “as their hips were showing and appeared to have sunken bellies, and ribs showing,” according to court documents.

Smith continued to drive the road and continued to see additional cows and calves in a pasture that did not contain sufficient grass. No hay was observed in either of two pastures or the corrals, nor could any indication of hay having been rolled out be seen.

Undersheriff Smith also did not see any lick tubs or feeders “that would indicate the cattle had been given any mineral or salt,” according to court documents.

The following morning, Undersheriff returned to the area with Stillwater Chief Deputy Skylar Steele, who photographed the cattle from the road. Conditions appeared unchanged from the day prior. Smith did notice a significant amount of hay on the property that was not accessible to the cattle.

The two men were joined by Montana Department of Livestock Inspector Travis Elings. Deputy Steele prepared a search warrant while Inspector Elings located a veterinarian to accompany law enforcement to the ranch to examine the cattle, according to court documents.

The trio, along with Dr. Daniel Bryan Roe, returned to the ranch with the search warrant. Myers was on his way out with several cows he said he was taking to get vaccinated. Undersheriff Smith advised him of the search warrant and investigation and told him the cows would have to be cleared to leave by the veterinarian. The cows were cleared, but Myers decided to cancel the trip and stay on scene, according to court documents.

Dr. Roe found several dead cows and calves in the corral, as was a cow that was “immobile and suffering.” Deputy Steele put the cow down at Dr. Roe’s request.

As the ranch was being searched, Undersheriff Smith spoke with Myers, who said that cattle were fed every other day, according to court documents.

“Myers was upset at the situation and stated he had done everything he could for the cattle. Undersheriff Smith explained to Myers that it is not hard to remove the dead cows and calves from the corral and that he was unable to see any remnants in the corral to show the cows had been fed in the past couple of days,” according to court documents.

Myers also told Smith that he had previously fed the cows with some hay that had resulted in their deaths and claimed that he had the hay tested, but “was not sure if it was safe to feed the cows,” according to court documents.

Myers also said he had hauled in hay the week prior and had been feeding the cows that. Undersheriff Smith told him there was no evidence of such feeding.

Once the cattle in the corral were assessed, Dr. Roe advised the lawmen that the cattle in the corral were in bad shape and needed to be removed and properly cared for, according to court documents. Inspector Elings, concurred, stating the cattle were in “horrible shape.”

While waiting for a transport truck, Myers was instructed to put hay in the corral, which “the cows quickly moved to and began consuming,” according to court documents. Myers was also told to take hay to the cattle in the pasture behind his home.

Dr. Roe and Inspector Elings then drove through the pastures on the property to assess the remaining cattle. The pasture to the east of the corral contained approximately 100 pairs in it, that were thin, but not as bad off as the corralled cattle. In the pasture to the west of the corral were another 150 to 170 pairs. These cattle were in similar condition to those in the corral.

Undersheriff Smith asked Myers about the condition of the pastures. Myers said there was grass further out “but the cows would not stay out where there is grass to eat,” according to court documents.

Undersheriff Smith told him he could have closed the gates to keep the cattle out near the grass.

“Myers stated that he has done as much as he can and has records to prove that he has had the cattle to several different veterinarians to have them checked. Myers also stated that a lot of the cattle were old and just did not gain weight,” according to court documents.

Myers was then asked to remove the dead cows and calves from the corral so one would not have to step over them when the truck arrived to load the live cattle.

Approximately 55 cows and eight calves were loaded into the transport truck. While loading, two “exhausted and malnourished cows” collapsed. One was able to get back up, but the other was not.

Based on the condition of the cattle and pastures, a second search warrant was obtained and executed on May 27 and the remaining cattle on the property were removed. Several more dead cows and calves were found in the pastures. On that day, 213 cows, 181 calves and six heifers were transported to the feedlot.