PITTSBURG, Texas -- Following a more than five-hour seizure hearing presided over by Justice of the Peace Harold Kennington, Camp County Attorney Jas Wallace reached an agreed judgment with Deanna Tierney and Patricia Sowka in response to the June 27 seizure of 159 equines from Scarlet’s Legacy Equine Rescue.
Tierney is the founder and president of the nonprofit organization, and Sowka, the owner of the 45-acre property on County Road 3324 that housed the animals.
They both agreed to, according to the court document, “relinquish any and all rights" to the 159 equines and that all the animals “be awarded to Safe Haven Rescue to be adopted out after 15 days from the date of this order.”
Among those who testified for the state were Camp County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Chris Clark, Dr. Daniel Kincaid, a veterinarian with Pittsburg Veterinary Clinic, and representatives from the Humane Society of the United States and Safe Haven Equine Rescue and Retirement Home.
Clark testified about the timeline of the criminal investigation that led to Tierney’s June 6 arrest on five counts of cruelty to livestock animals and the June 27 seizure of the equines from the Camp County property.
Clark said the investigation began Oct. 15, 2015, when a citizen called the sheriff’s office to report dead horses and others in poor condition at the rescue. A week later, Richard Fincher with Safe Haven Equine Rescue contacted the CCSO with similar concerns.
“Safe Haven had received calls, and after they drove by the property, they notified us of what they saw, not knowing that we were already aware of the situation,” Clark testified.
Clark said deputies met with Tierney on Oct. 26, 2018, and she allowed them to photograph the equine and the condition of the property. Due to her explanation that she received the animals from kills pens already in an unhealthy state, the department told her they would continue to monitor the nonprofit to ensure animal cruelty was not taking place.
“We continued to get more calls. On Jan. 6, 2019, we had another anonymous call requesting a welfare check on the horses, and on Feb. 6, we had a conference call with the United State Humane Society,” Clark said.
Dr. Mikaela Vetters, a veterinarian who works with the HSUS, testified that she visited Scarlet’s Legacy with the CCSO on Feb. 14 to conduct a preliminary overview of the property and an evaluation.
“I found a situation which I consider severe and in need of significant intervention,” Vetters testified.
During that visit, Clark testified that one horse could not get up on its own, and he and Vetters recommended that Tierney contact a veterinarian for immediate care for the horse.
“Was the vet contacted? Wallace asked Clark.
“No, sir,” Clark replied.
Clark also revealed during testimony that they made a shocking discovery.
“We found a large pit or a hole filled with numerous, numerous horse carcasses, equine carcasses. It was pretty disturbing,” Clark testified.
Clark estimated the number of carcasses that were in the pit to be around 50, and 3 or 4 on the ground around the mass burial site.
At that point during the hearing, Kennington asked Tierney and Sowka if they would like to view the photos taken by Clark before Wallace entered them into evidence. They said they would, and then Wallace showed the graphic pictures on a large screen to the court while Clark described the images.
Clark said while the CCSO continued to build its case, six more horses were found dead on the property on March 14, two were visible from the road.
“Ms. Tierney advised us that she was down to 72 equine on the property and advised us that there were three dead, but Investigator (Calvin) Lamont found six dead instead of three,” Clark said.
It was April 3 when Susan Sarles, an owner of six horses boarded at Scarlet’s Legacy, contacted the CCSO with concerns about the welfare of the horses she bought from a kill pen in Kansas in December 2018.
“Ms. Sarles had received information that they had lost weight and appeared to be malnourished. She provided photographs of those six horses. One of the six had already died, and she was concerned about remaining five,” Clark said.
The CCSO compared the photographs from December 2018 to those they took on June 5. Clark testified that one of the horses was down when they went to document their condition and Dr. Katheryn Juneau, a veterinarian at Pittsburg Veterinary Clinic, was en route at that time to check on the horse.
“We talked to Dr. Juneau about it, and she said the cause for that horse being down was most likely neglect by Ms. Tierney not providing the necessary nutrients. The horse was still alive at that point, but later died overnight,” Clark said.
The CCSO requested that Dr. Juneau perform a necropsy on the horse and then obtained a seizure warrant for Sarles’ remaining four horses.
“We executed five counts of animal cruelty warrants for Ms. Tierney, and we returned with a search warrant to get a correct and true number of horses on the property,” Clark said. “We felt like Ms. Tierney was deceitful on the numbers.”
That search warrant revealed that there were 163 equines on the property, and on June 27 after issuing a second seizure warrant, 159 were taken from the property and transported to an undisclosed location where they continue to be cared for by Safe Haven and the HSUS.
At 11:35, before the second set of photographs was to be entered into evidence and shown in court, Tierney and Sowka requested a conference with the prosecutor to reach an agreed judgment. The court hearing recessed until after lunch, and the agreement was reached at 1:42 p.m.
As part of the agreement, Wallace granted Sowka immunity from prosecution of the offense of animal cruelty regarding the 159 equines. The court order also states that Sowka “agrees to cooperate with any pending investigations or prosecutions that may occur regarding the 159 equine, including testifying on behalf of the state.”
The order further states that Tierney and Sowka may not be involved in solicitation, screening of adoption applications, or have any decisions regarding adoption placements. The women, nor their relatives, friends, acquaintances, or third parties associated with them, may not adopt, receive, or care for any of the animals forfeited in the case, including their offspring. The same condition applies to anyone associated with Scarlet’s Legacy and Northeastern Nevada Equine Rescue, the previous name of the rescue.
Testimony in the rest of the hearing focused on costs that each entity has incurred, and Kennington ordered Tierney and Sowka to pay $42,018 in restitution to Pittsburg Veterinary Clinic, Safe Haven and the HSUS, plus daily expenses until the equines are adopted out.
Before the hearing was over, the name of the Scarlet’s Legacy Equine Rescue Facebook page changed to Horse Nation Rescue. Over the weekend, all previous posts had been purged from the page, and by Monday, the revamped page had also been taken down. The administrator of the Horse Nation Rescue Facebook page posted that it had acquired the page on July 1.
“No former admins, owners, or others have access to comment or post on this page. We had originally intended to leave the page whole and move forward, however, due to harassment and threats received by previous commentators on posts on that content, we have decided to purge the page,” the post stated. “Admins will not answer any other questions regarding the history of this page, it’s owners, founders or others.”
The Scarlet’s Legacy website address is still active, although the post stated that a new website would launch in 30 days.
“You will find information there at that time as to who we are and the future of what we are wanting to accomplish,” the post said.