Shannon Pearce has been charged with four counts of animal abuse in connection with the death of four horses found dead in a Payette pasture this week, according to the Payette Police Department.
The department notified the public in a Facebook post late Thursday afternoon.
If convicted, Pearce faces up to a year in jail and a fine of $1,000 for each of the four counts.
This is a breaking news update. See our story from Wednesday below.
Payette Police Chief Mark Clark said the owner of four horses found dead near an empty water trough in Payette told investigators that he had left a hose running in the 1,000 gallon trough — and police found evidence it was inadvertently shut off by another party.
But Shannon Pearce of New Plymouth, the owner of the horses, could still face animal abuse charges, Clark said.
“It appears he hasn’t been out there to check on them in over a week,” Clark told the Statesman late Wednesday afternoon. “We think that’s where negligence comes into play.”
Temperatures in the region over the past two weeks have been hot, with daily highs ranging from 90 to 102, in nearby Ontario, Ore., according to National Weather Service climate data.
The Payette County Sheriff’s Office put out a press release about the incident Wednesday. Sheriff’s deputies were first to investigate the report of dead horses on Sunday on the property behind Teton Machine Company in Payette. Because it occurred in city limits, Payette Police have taken over the case.
Clark said investigators found evidence that Pearce had left a hose running in the trough to water the horses and that it was full when Pearce left. But an irrigation company working in the area turned off the water.
“They had taken that hose out, or shut it off, inadvertently while working on irrigation for the property. They weren’t culpable in this,” Clark said. “Mr. Pearce has a responsibility to check on these animals.”
Five horses — four dead and one very ill — were found on pasture that’s part of the Teton Machine property, which changed hands in recent weeks and now has an owner who is in California. Clark said investigators don’t believe the new owner was aware that Pearce had an agreement with the prior owner to pasture the horses there.
Clark said Pearce owns as many as a couple dozen horses on other properties around the county, and police are doing welfare checks on those animals to be sure they are OK. Pearce was charged with animal cruelty, improper disposal of livestock and animals at large in 2009, but those charges were dismissed, according to online court records. Clark said his department and the county sheriff have received numerous complaints over the years about Pearce from people concerned about animal abuse.
“There’s a history behind him and all these horses. I’m not really sure what he does with these horses,” Clark said.
Sheriff’s deputies were dispatched to the Teton Machine property after a report of animal neglect. The complainant reported seeing several horses dead and an empty water trough in a pasture near Hurd Lane, just south of Northeast 10th Avenue. When officers arrived at 7:40 p.m., they found the dead animals and confirmed the horses had no access to water.
Investigators are working with the Payette County Prosecutor’s Office, but no charges have been filed.
Under Idaho law, the Idaho Department of Agriculture investigates allegations of abuse of “production animals,” or animals involved in the production of food or fiber, Dr. Bill Barton, the Idaho state veterinarian. State ag officials also help out with investigations, if county officials ask.
“Many of our employees own animals themselves and are as heartbroken by this as much as our community is,” the sheriff’s office said on its Facebook page. “We appreciate the community’s concerns and would like to remind all animals owners that the heat is reaching triple digits. Animals need a consistent water source and can overheat very quickly, please ensure you are taking care of your furry family members.”
The sheriff’s office encouraged anyone who notices signs of animal neglect to call Payette County dispatch at 208-642-6006 ext. 1175.