Friday, December 13, 2002

Animal case cost Kenton $30K

Judge says it was a waste to prosecute

By Jim Hannah
The Cincinnati Enquirer

COVINGTON - The county gets the $30,000 bill, the county attorney got a lecture and Ohio gets the lizards.

A Kenton District Court judge Thursday questioned the wisdom of spending more than $30,000 to prosecute a reptile lover who filled his MainStrasse area apartment with 41 snakes, turtles and lizards. Besides being wasteful, Judge Martin Sheehan said, an exotic pet ban is possibly unconstitutional.

After three months of legal wrangling, the deaths of three of the creatures and a huge veterinary bill, the county had to settle for a plea bargain.

The deal reduced the multiple counts of inhumane treatment of animals and violation of a ban on exotic pets against Jeremy Holtzclaw to a single charge of disorderly conduct.

Judge Sheehan rebuffed the county's request that Mr. Holtzclaw pay the county more than $30,000 it spent housing the 42 turtles, snakes, iguanas and monitor lizards as evidence at a clinic since August.

The judge, instead, ordered Mr. Holtzclaw to pay a $250 fine, move the reptiles to a sanctuary in Ohio and do community service.

"I'm going to be doing my community service at the center that has agreed to take my reptiles," said Mr. Holtzclaw, 20, on Thursday. "Essentially, the judge ordered me to spend time with my pets. And that's all I ever wanted to do - spend time with my reptiles."

Kenton County Attorney Gary Edmondson said it's the prerogative of his office whether to prosecute someone.

He said he disagreed with Judge Sheehan's decision not to force Mr. Holtzclaw to pay at least part of the vet bill - saying it was the judge who stuck taxpayers with the $30,000 bill.

"We have an obligation to see that animals are treated properly," Mr. Edmondson said. "We accepted that responsibility, and we lived up to those obligation. It would have been easy for us to turn our head."

Mr. Edmondson pointed out Mr. Holtzclaw was living in such squalid conditions that his apartment was condemned until it was cleaned.

"It is against the law to house animals in a condition so bad the apartment was condemned," Mr. Edmondson said. "It was a environmental concern to not only the pets, but to Mr. Holtzclaw and his neighbors."

When three creatures died recently the county ordered autopsies to prove that cancer, not poor government care, had caused their demise. And that contributed to the high bill.

Mr. Holtzclaw agreed he had fallen behind on cleaning. But Judge Sheehan said he wasn't sure taking the animals away and ordering Mr. Holtzclaw pay $30,000 was the solution.


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