“Next to the right of liberty, the right of property is the most important individual right guaranteed by the Constitution and the one which, united with that of personal liberty, has contributed more to the growth of civilization than any other institution established by the human race.” –William Howard Taft
Yesterday, I wrote a brief article about my experience Wednesday evening at the ranch of Gladstone resident, Gary Dassinger, who is being put through the ringer on charges of animal abuse and neglect. Charges based on a 2013 law passed in North Dakota with the support of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). I ended that article with the following statement:
“The implications of this case for farmers and ranchers across the state of North Dakota are huge. If Stark County can ultimately prosecute Gary Dassinger for these charges, then look out. Because the North Dakota you and I grew up in is gone and none of us are safe from the tyrannical abuse of an out of control bunch of activists that know little or nothing about farming, ranching, and animal production.” I then commented that there would be more to come from The Minuteman on this issue in the days and weeks to follow. It is because of those implications that I am already following up that introductory article with this one.
Imagine having your livelihood put in jeopardy by someone that’s never even met you. And in the case of Gary Dassinger, apparently the person who made the complaint has not only never been to the ranch, but they don’t even live in the state. They allegedly based their findings of abuse and neglect off of some pictures sent to them through social media by a disgruntled ranch hand named John Connor.
It was this same ranch hand that was given the primary responsibility of caring for Gary’s animals as he was suffering from the effects of a bad back and hip last winter. The same ranch hand who now has been given immunity to testify against Gary. Convenient, isn’t it?
One of the most problematic aspects of this case is that no real investigation was done to find out from Gary what his side of the story was before legal proceedings were started to seize his animals. Stark County Sheriff Terry Oestreich showed up on April 22nd with West Dakota Veterinarian, Kim Brummond, to confiscate a mare and foal. This was carried out without a search warrant or even any documentation of a complaint being filed. Let that sink in for a while… no search warrant or legal documentation.
Not only did Gary cooperate by supplying them with the trailer and ball for the hitch to haul the mare and foal, but he also euthanized two other horses at their demand while disagreeing with Brummond’s assessment of them.
Just three days later, on April 25th, Gary was served a paper from the Stark County State’s Attorney’s Office and veterinarian Kim Brummond that made a list of conditions they wanted met. In a nutshell, Gary needed to hire a veterinarian to help him come up with a herd management plan by the deadline of May 5th.
Gary immediately contacted his own veterinarian, Chance Noyce, and asked him to come out to help develop the plan. Noyce agreed, the plan was made, and Gary turned it in to the Stark County State’s Attorney’s Office seven days before the deadline on April 28th.
As part of complying with the demands of the county, he dewormed and deloused all the cattle and horses, except for the pregnant mares. And in addition to this, farriers also came to trim the hooves of the yearlings. An important side note here is that the farriers found no problems with the horses in their observations while on the ranch.
In the days following the April 25th letter, with its list of demands, a series of events began that can be classified as nothing short of harassment. The Stark County Sheriff’s Department began patrolling the property using roads and fence lines. Multiple unannounced visits took place from deputies, veterinarian Kim Brummond, and even the Assistant Stark County State’s Attorney. On the advice of their family attorney, Gary finally placed “No Trespassing” signs on the property.
Then on May 22nd, and in spite of Gary’s cooperation and meeting of the demands placed upon him, a Stark County Deputy showed up to issue Gary a “seizure in place order” and announced that they could come and go as they pleased now. And come they did. Patrols increased and gates were sometimes not shut properly– if at all by the patrolees. On one occasion, a gate was left partially open that would have given the horses access to the road had they gotten out.
During my Wednesday visit to the ranch, I was able to view video footage of law enforcement sitting at the end of the driveway with their vehicles running and lights on. They would even shine their spotlight up the driveway to the house as late as 10pm. Altogether, it was certainly an odd display that came across as not only unnecessary, but more as intimidation than anything else.
Then on May 25th all Hell broke loose. The sheriff, his deputies, and volunteers from the Triple H Miniature Horse Rescue showed up with about a half mile of vehicles and trailers to confiscate the horses.
There were two key events that ultimately prevented the removal of the horses from being carried out:
Key 1: On May 17th – five days prior to the “seizure in place order” – Gary had hired a third party veterinarian from Beulah by the name of Carolyn Woodruff to come in and do an assessment. Her assessment was completed on May 18th, but it was left out of the paperwork for the seizure order. Only Brummond’s assessment was included.
Key 2: On the advice of their family attorney, Gary had hired defense attorney Thomas Murtha. It was Murtha who realized that Woodruff’s assessment was not included in the paperwork for the seizure order. Murtha pointed this out in filing his request for a temporary restraining order to stop the seizure from taking place.
Knowing that Gary was seeking the injunction, Stark County Sheriff Terry Oestreich moved ahead with the seizure anyhow. And by the time Judge Rhonda Ehlis granted the temporary restraining order, many of Gary’s horses were loaded and enroute to Dakota West Veterinary Clinic and the Triple H Miniature Horse Rescue in Mandan. With the order now in place, the horses were then returned to the Dassinger Ranch.
As all of this was playing out, an interesting event took place at the ranch. A reporter had shown up to interview Gary, but law enforcement refused him passage beyond a road block they had put up. On the advice of his lawyer, Gary drove down and picked up the reporter and brought him back to the ranch where Gary showed him around and answered questions.
However, when Gary invited the reporter inside the house, a deputy stopped him and told him he could not go in. The reporter was told that a “press area” had been set up and forbade him access to the home. At this point, the reporter simply left.
Since then, three days and about 13 hours worth of hearings have taken place regarding the seizure of Gary’s animals. A hearing that Judge Rhonda Ehlis pointed out was not required by law. Think of it, you can have your animals confiscated and dispersed without ever being convicted of a crime. Is this really America we are living in?
The county’s “star witnesses” are less than stellar.
Disgruntled former ranch hand, John Connor, testified that he was not paid and that he used his own money to feed the horses. Gary Dassinger has cancelled checks and receipts for the feed that prove this is not true.
Veterinarian Kim Brummond isn’t exactly the most credible person either. In 2004 the North Dakota Supreme Court upheld a defamation suit against her to the tune of over $264,000. She had defamed the name of a former employee to the point where the former employee couldn’t get work anymore. Brummond also has a history with Gary Dassinger that I won’t get into here.
From my observations at the hearing on Wednesday, Brummond took a pretty good beating. Not one, but two other veterinarians contradicted Brummond’s assessment of the Dassinger Ranch. Both Gary’s veterinarian, Chance Noyce, and the third party veterinarian, Carolyn Woodruff, testified that seizure was unnecessary.
I was especially unimpressed by the conduct of Stark County State’s Attorney Tom Henning and his assistant. Not only was their tone unprofessional, but they would speak over defense witnesses. At one point, Judge Rhonda Ehlis chastised Henning and told him to stop speaking over the witness.
It was also evident that neither of the two prosecuting attorney’s have little – if any – experience with ranching. At one point, the assistant state’s attorney was drilling veterinarian Carolyn Woodruff on an issue regarding foals. Woodruff had to point out that the material the Assistant State’s Attorney was basing her argument on was in relation to adult horses, not foals. An embarrassment for the prosecution to say the least.
Most importantly, one of the things that was blatantly evident to me from Wednesday’s hearing was that Gary had gone out of his way to meet the demands placed upon him. Not only had he euthanized the two horses he didn’t feel needed to be euthanized, but he also complied with every single demand found in the paper served to him on April 25th by developing and following the herd management plan with veterinarian Chance Noyce.
So, what about the animals in question that they are using to try to prove abuse and neglect against Gary Dassinger?
Well, three of the four cows that were dead on the ranch were well over 20 years old. With a long winter and the age of the cows, it’s simply not uncommon to lose cattle like this. The fourth cow apparently fell on its back on a hillside but couldn’t get back up– much like a turtle.
As for the horses in question, Gary had recognized which ones needed treatment and was taking the steps to help them improve. A fact that veterinarian Chance Noyce testified to.
Were all of Gary Dassinger’s animals in tip-top condition? No. That is something that Gary himself has never denied. But coming out of a long winter, it is not uncommon to have some animals come out in poorer conditions than others. It’s a fact of life and not at all uncommon to those who have even a little knowledge of ranching. They certainly weren’t in the condition Kim Brummond made them out to be.
What about the condition of the ranch? Well, if Gary Dassinger loses his livestock and is found a criminal – based in part on the condition of his ranch – then the vast majority of ranchers across the state of North Dakota had better pay attention, because you may be next.
In the time since leaving Gladstone, I have passed multiple ranches. Based on the expectations put forth by the Stark County State’s Attorney Office – which they are basing off of the 2013 law supported by the HSUS – none of these ranches are safe. Something could be found on each one of them that could result in allegations like Gary Dassinger is now dealing with.
I asked Gary on Wednesday how much he stands to lose if they end up taking all of his animals. Between the cattle and the horses, the total could come to around $250,000 worth of livestsock. I should also mention here that nearly all the horses are registered. And Gary is now prohibited from selling any of the animals.
But the costs don’t end there. In addition to potentially losing his livestock, these allegations – and Stark County’s handling of the situation – are likely causing irreparable damage to Gary Dassinger’s reputation with some folks in the area. You see, Gary is also a clinical social worker in Dickinson. He’s already feeling the affects of the allegations on his practice there.
Rep. Luke Simons (R – District 36) is right, “We need to stop treating animals like human beings.” In fact, we need to start treating human beings like human beings again.
Whether it’s state law, the Stark County Sheriff’s Office, or the Stark County State’s Attorney; Gary Dassinger is being abused by the very people that should be protecting him. It’s simply unthinkable and un-American.
This could all be dropped today. And it should be. Gary Dassinger is not guilty of abuse or neglect. He’s guilty of being a rancher. And that should send chills down the spine of every animal producer across the state of North Dakota.
NOTE : If you’d like to support Gary Dassinger, please visit the “Support Dassinger Ranch” Facebook page:
A Go Fund Me account has been set up to help defray the mounting legal expenses for Gary. If you can help, please visit here: https://www.gofundme.com/dassingerranchrescue?ssid=1027628832&pos=1