By Rosemary K. Otzman
and Diane Madigan
Independent Court Reporter
It all started when Belleville Police Chief Gene Taylor found a dead horse dumped in a Sumpter Township ditch on his way to work in March.
It ended 19 animal cruelty charges later in a June 11 plea deal before 34th District Court Judge Brian Oakley.
In the plea, 18 animal cruelty charges and dumping charges were dropped in exchange for Walter Bradley Hazel’s plea of “no contest” to one animal cruelty charge and one charge of dumping.
Judge Oakley sentenced Hazel, 35, of Carleton West Road, to one year of probation on each of the two charges. One black and white pit bull that had been removed from his farm, had been returned to him and that was the only animal allowed on his property for a year.
Judge Oakley said Hazel must take his dog to be examined periodically by Sumpter veterinarian Yvonne Craiger to make sure the dog is doing all right, with cost of the exams to be the responsibility of Hazel.
Judge Oakley asked Hazel what his dog’s name was and Hazel said his dog is “Barack, like the president.”
The judge gave Hazel fines totaling $525 for the animal cruelty and an additional $975 for dumping. A payment plan was to be set up.
Judge Oakley said Sumpter Township is not a dumping ground for trash and the paperwork didn’t show whether the dumping was for the animal or the tires, wallpaper, and household debris. He wanted to know who cleaned it up.
Sumpter Township Detective John Toth told the judge Wayne County crews and possibly the 34th District work crew cleaned up.
Hazel’s attorney John McKinney said, “These charges stem from not a lot of experience on how to do it,” referring to taking care of animals.
He supported the plea deal “… to prevent this from happening again and to ease into farming.”
Hazel had inherited the farm. His attorney said Hazel had no criminal history.
Hazel told the Independent he had a team of white mules that he would drive to Mary Ann’s in New Boston and people would take their pictures with the team because they were so beautiful. His animals were in good shape, he claimed.
Hazel also told the Independent of the animals that were removed from his farm, and conceded, “Maybe I could have done a better job of taking care of them.”
Det. Toth said Sumpter Township did not impose restitution costs, so all animals were signed off on by Hazel.
The day the search warrant was executed, Dr. Craiger was on site with two or three others from her veterinary clinic and there were about six from Loving Arms Animal Rescue.
The dog was malnourished, Toth said. Police took lots of pictures. On the scene, Hazel signed documents surrendering all the animals to the Sumpter Township Police Department.
“We seized everything,” Toth said. Then someone asked, “What are we doing with the dogs?” The warrant was for “farm animals.” There were three pit bulls (four at the beginning, but one was missing).
Toth said there were piles of animals burned up on the back of the property. Toth said the animals had inadequate care and Toth said he is unsure if Hazel just didn’t know how to farm or what the problem was. Hay became very expensive and there was no water. He was feeding the animals straw.
On May 1 Hazel signed the plea agreement and was allowed to pick up one dog – a black and white pit bull – from the Sumpter animal pound.
Toth said at the beginning of the investigation, every time police went out to talk to Hazel, an animal turned up dead: one dog turned up missing, one mule was killed, one llama was missing and found shot. Hazel said “somebody” came and did it and he didn’t know who.
The rescuers brought food with them.
Among the animals taken by police were three pit bulls (including Barack), three llamas, one miniature pony, two horses, three mules and one bull.
The dead horse in the ditch found by Chief Taylor on March 8 in the area of Judd and Haggerty roads that brought attention to this farm was explained by Hazel. He said some scrappers came and offered to dump the dead horse for him. He said they loaded it on their trailer and took it. The trailer Hazel described as belonging to the scrappers was found at the back of Hazel’s property.
Sumpter police decided not to worry about prosecution
“All we cared about is the animals, so we went in as an animal rescue,” Toth said. He said it took just 24 hours for all the rescuers to get together to come and rescue the animals.
Toth said since then he has seen pictures of some of the animals on flyers and on the internet as the rescuers worked to find them new homes.
Toth said Hazel’s no contest plea to the charges, means he is “not disputing what I say” on the police report.
Toth said the animals were in terrible shape and police have pictures. He said he learned that a horse or mule grows a longer coat in the winter. Even though there was a longer coat, the individual bones could be seen on the emaciated animals, he said.
The llamas were three years old and had never been combed – ever, Toth said. “They were a ratty mess.”
Toth said there is a scoring system for animal health. Llamas score from 1-5, and one of Hazel’s llamas scored below that, at .5. The bull was in the mid range, but a horse, on a 1-10 scale, rated just 1.
By Rosemary K. Otzman