Summit County animal control officer resigns, prompts internal investigation
For Summit County Animal Control supervisor Ian Andrews, a dead Labrador was the beginning of the end.
The 6-year-old dog, Jameson, was wrapped in a blanket and dropped off Sunday, Sept. 21, at the county animal shelter in Frisco. Every rib was visible through Jameson’s skin, and his shoulder, hip and leg bones protruded. A large tumor bulged on his front left leg.
Andrews, 49, was not on duty that day or the days immediately after, but the officer working later told him what happened. Because the dog looked suspiciously emaciated, she photographed its body and marked it with a hold tag to investigate possible animal cruelty.
The next day, the owner came to the shelter to pay for Jameson’s cremation, and the same officer asked him questions about the dog’s condition.
That’s when Lesley Hall, the director of the county Animal Control and Shelter, shut down the officer’s questions, Andrews said, saying the dog had cancer for years. Hall believed the owner properly cared for it.
The hold tag disappeared and the dog was cremated before Andrews returned to work. Soon after he started investigating the incident the next week, Hall told him to stop.
“She ordered me not to investigate what looks like a crime,” he said. “My job description says I oversee and manage cruelty case files, and yet I wasn’t being allowed to do that.”
In an email to leaders of the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, which oversees animal control, Andrews wrote that Hall repeatedly told him not to pursue investigations and that he believed animal control had been ignoring possible cases for decades.
“We have a responsibility to the community and to these animals,” he told the Summit Daily in December. “The animals are voiceless victims.”
He was tired of feeling like he couldn’t do his job. On Oct. 13, he resigned.
NO POLICY VIOLATIONS
Andrews’ claims prompted the sheriff’s office to launch an internal investigation.
Not only did Andrews allege policy violations, management issues and failure to enforce the law, said undersheriff Derek Woodman, but the matter involved a division commander. “We took that pretty seriously.”
Summit brought in a captain with the Clear Creek County Sheriff’s Office, who started looking into the matter on Oct. 21 and finished Dec. 1.
In a Dec. 17 interview, Woodman said the internal investigation found all of Andrews’ claims were unfounded.
“There was no indication of any violation of policy,” Woodman said. “There is clearly a philosophical difference between Ian and Lesley Hall.”
As evidence that animal control had been properly pursuing cases, he produced a spreadsheet Hall sent him two days before of call records from 1998 to 2014 that showed the county averaged 57 animal calls a year.
The 962 total calls over the 17-year period resulted in outcomes ranging from warnings to impounds to referrals to other agencies.
One-third of the calls were simply documented because officers found no action warranted. Close to another third were resolved with nonpunitive measures such as warnings and education of pet owners.
Thirteen of the calls resulted in the animal owner being issued a citation for animal cruelty.
Then Woodman presented 14 incident reports of animal cruelty or neglect that Hall gave him the day before. The reports represented all cases from 1999 to 2014 that resulted in criminal charges filed or court summons issued.
Of those cases, five ended in guilty convictions, and two resulted in guilty pleas. The other seven were dismissed, deferred or voided.
To Andrews, who travels the U.S. teaching law enforcement officers how to investigate animal cruelty as a National Animal Cruelty Investigation School instructor, the number of convictions seemed too low.
“Although it’s Summit County, and this is a community of … responsible pet ownership and an animal-loving community, these crimes still occur,” he said.
Education can solve the problem in some, even most, situations, he said, but “you’ve got to have a willingness to ask the right questions when evidence is presented and look to see if there is crime.”
Woodman said that he “absolutely” believed animal control had been doing that. At the same time, he said, the internal investigation unearthed animal control practices that will be changed.
JAMESON, THE CASHEW-EATING DOG
Andrews started his law enforcement career in the U.K., where he’s from. In his roughly 10 years with the British police force he gained experience investigating crimes from burglary to murder.
He worked in Canada for a few years and briefly as an officer with the Santa Barbara Police Department in California before moving to Summit County. About a year ago the Breckenridge resident opened the Altus Training Center, in Frisco, which he runs with his wife.
In late September, when Andrews started investigating Jameson the Labrador’s death, he found no animal control records other than the dog’s cremation.
According to the supplement report he created Oct. 4 for the Silverthorne Police Department, he contacted seven veterinary clinics in Summit. One had seen the dog in 2008 for puppy vaccinations. Another saw the dog in 2010, noted the tumor and remarked the dog looked thin for its age.
None of the local doctors had seen the dog since.
Andrews thought the dog might’ve been seen elsewhere and tried contacting the owner. He asked the local vets if they knew of a treatment that would manage the dog’s pain when it looked emaciated.
“They told me, ‘Absolutely not, that dog should’ve been euthanized long before it died. It starved to death,’” Andrews said.
Dr. Mark Cowan, of Buffalo Mountain Animal Hospital in Silverthorne, was one of the veterinarians Andrews called whose clinic had no record of the dog. He said he would likely agree with Andrews.
“It sounds like it was neglected,” Cowan said, but “without knowing the history, it’s hard for me to say anything.”
Andrews also said he consulted with deputy district attorney Jeff Patty, who has since left that office, and Silverthorne police officer Misty Higby. They would be the ones taking over the case from him if needed, and both agreed he had probable cause to file charges unless the owner could prove, through a vet’s or other treatment records, that the dog didn’t unnecessarily suffer.
“I always work as diligently to exonerate the innocent as you do to identify the guilty,” Andrews said.
On Oct. 6, Hall emailed Andrews that Jameson didn’t have an appetite and would only eat cashews, according to the dog’s owner.
Dogs with cancer can drop weight quickly and weight alone isn’t an indicator of poor health, she wrote. “I also don’t think that the man would drop his dog off for cremation if he was starving it.”
To Anderson, that statement shows naivety and incompetence.
“In the end he (the owner) did the right thing,” Hall continued in the email. “We do not have any facts to proceed with this case and in talking with the owner, I believe he was able to explain the condition of the animal.”
Woodman defended Hall’s decision.
“There wasn’t any animal cruelty,” he said. “The dog had cancer.”
Woodman said owners legally can choose to spend thousands on treatments for their pets or a small fee for euthanasia.
“There’s nothing in any state statute that says an owner must put a pet down.”
Hall started as an animal control officer in Summit about 27 years ago and was promoted to supervisor in 1993.
Of the 10 incident reports she produced of animal cases that led to prosecution between 1999 and 2010, when she became director, she was the lead investigator on four cases and co-lead on three.
Andrews started at Summit County animal Control in February 2012, and until he resigned last October, he said he had to fight Hall to investigate possible cruelty and neglect cases.
“There hasn’t been one of them where she said, ‘Great. Go ahead. That’s our job,’” he said. “Every one has been a fight to get past my own boss.”
For example, he said, he discovered a bony horse whose owner falsely said it had cancer.
Further investigation showed the old horse was slowly starving because it couldn’t eat its food. The horse was eventually seized, fed an appropriate diet and gained about 300 pounds. The owner plead guilty to animal cruelty.
“This is a perfect example of doing the job we are sworn to do,” Andrews wrote in a Jan. 2 email to the Summit Daily. “The animal no longer was suffering, the abuser was ultimately held accountable, after first being given an opportunity to resolve the issues with our help, but refusing. BUT I had to fight tooth and nail to get ‘authorization’ from Lesley to pursue that case too. She told me there was insufficient evidence.”
Another time, Andrews said, when he wanted to investigate a report of someone punching a dog in the face at a local park, Hall told him she didn’t like pursuing animal cruelty cases because they would create a negative image in the public eye.
“I nearly fell off my chair. I’ve never ever encountered that attitude,” he said. “My philosophy is we should investigate cruelty cases, and her philosophy is she doesn’t like to.”
Hall said she doesn’t recall making that comment and said animal control could not pursue that specific case as it belonged in the Frisco Police Department jurisdiction.
“I supported Ian on the cases that he worked,” Hall said in an emailed statement Thursday. “I also had to help Ian understand the American legal system with respect to animal laws. He may choose to view that as fighting, but that is a part of a normal process of educating and supervising someone in a new position.”
DOCUMENTATION AND TRAINING
Early in his time at animal control, Andrews was told to look through old case files and discard anything that didn’t result in a criminal charge or could not be used as a learning tool.
He said he was shocked by how few cases he found going back to the 1970s.
Woodman also was surprised by animal control’s record keeping.
While the rest of the sheriff’s office destroys hard copies of records older than 10 years, animal control was destroying those older than two or three years.
“Yesterday I learned that their destruction schedule is an awful lot shorter than what it should be,” Woodman said Dec. 17. “They were operating on a 1975 destruction schedule. That’s changed as of yesterday.”
After animal control was brought under the sheriff’s office in the early 2000s, Hall said, its destruction schedule “just wasn’t something that came up.”
Woodman also discovered that animal control officers logged everything they responded to in their computer database and created separate incident reports when a case was headed for prosecution.
“That’s not good practice,” he said, adding that from now on, they would consolidate their documents so cases are easier to track. “It’s all going to live as one.”
Then incident reports will be reviewed by someone outside animal control, he said, most likely a sheriff’s office detective.
Another change coming because of the internal investigation, Woodman said, is in training. “That’s top of the list.”
He said animal control officers are noncertified and typically start with no investigative experience.
Andrews, who graduated first in his police academy class in California and had worked as a private investigator, was an exception.
NEITHER JUDGE NOR JURY
Though Andrews said he was happy to hear of coming improvements in documentation and training, he remained skeptical of animal control investigative practices.
“The day that we pretend we’re vets and decide whether or not the dog suffered …” he said, trailing off. “It’s a slippery slope. It’s not our job to be judge and juries.”
He agreed with Hall and Woodman that educating pet owners should be the course most often taken when responding to animal calls, but that officers must follow through with any possible cruelty or neglect cases.
“There’s always gray areas, especially in law enforcement,” he said, “but that’s exactly why we have a court system.”
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