A Graham horse owner has formally denied Pierce County authorities’ charges of animal cruelty.
John Diller pleaded not guilty in Superior Court on Dec. 27. The plea was entered on his behalf by his attorney, and his next court date is a pre-trial hearing scheduled for Feb. 25, according to the prosecuting attorney’s office.
Ten counts of animal cruelty were filed by prosecutors against Diller in December in connection with horses that were removed from a Graham farm by authorities who said the animals were being kept in unhealthy surroundings.
Pierce County Animal Control officers went to the site in September and and found 39 horses, including 10 stallions, housed in three barns and outdoor paddocks. The stalls contained excessive feces and urine, and it appeared that the horses weren’t allowed outside, officials said. They said the paddocks had shelters but contained piles of manure one to two feet high. Most of the horses were underweight, had poor muscle tone, and their hooves were overgrown and cracked, according to authorities.
The horses were taken to Frontier Park, a county-operated facility in Graham, for care and medical treatment in horse barns that are used there for the Pierce County Fair and other equine events. Officials said several of the horses had severe and painful medical conditions due to neglect. Eight of the animals were later euthanized due to medical conditions or dangerous behavior that they exhibited, officials reported.
Diller and his supporters have denied that the horses were abused.
While the felony case of animal cruelty is proceeding against Diller, 69, 11 of the seized horses were returned to him under orders of a Pierce County District Court judge following a court hearing Nov. 9. The judge accepted evidence that Diller and more than 40 volunteers had cleared, cleaned and repaired enough of his property to house up to 15 horses safely. Veterinarians told the court that 11 were healthy enough to be released back to Diller, who.asked for all of them to be returned.
The District Court ruling was separate from the animal cruelty allegations and was only to determine whether Diller could have some or all of the horses while the criminal case continued, officials said.
Of the surviving horses that weren’t returned to Diller, at least 11 have been adopted or are in the process of being adopted, and homes are being sought for nine more, officials said.
The county and private donors have paid for upkeep of horses in the county’s custody.
In what authorities called the largest seizure of animals in Pierce County history, the original 39 horses were taken away Sept. 25 after a federal agent serving a search warrant at the 99-acre site reported the animals’ conditions to Animal Control officials, according to Prosecuting Attorney Mark Lindquist. Information on the federal investigation, believed to be unrelated to tha animal cruelty case, hasn’t been released.