Jones County Sheriff Alex Hodge (wearing cowboy hat) and Maj. Jamie Tedford walk away from the media during a raid at 178 Lyon Ranch Road in July. (Photo by Mark Thornton)

Sennes’ attorney questions search warrant signed by chancery court judge

The attorney for Col. David and Mary Ellen Senne wrote a scathing response to Sheriff Alex Hodge’s motion for summary judgment in the seizure of their five pets in the July raid of their Lyon Ranch Road property.

The sheriff showed a “blatant disregard” for the Sennes’ Constitutional rights and used “gestapo” techniques in their arrest of his clients, attorney J. Ronald Parrish wrote in a 54-page reply that was filed in the Jones County Circuit Clerk’s office. 

The seizure of their five personal pets, in addition to the 80-plus animals they were caring for on their property, was a violation of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the state Constitution, both of which state that no person should be deprived of property “without due process of law.” 

Mississippi Code allows the seizure of animals that are being “cruelly treated, neglected or abandoned,” and the owners of a seized animal may request a court hearing within five days. The Sennes’ hearing has been delayed twice and is now set for December.

The Sennes are childless and devote their financial resources and time to care for sick and abandoned animals, Parrish wrote. They spent “thousands of dollars on their well being and health, which included food, veterinary care and even a groomer. These were animals no one wanted and their alternative to the life they had was to be killed.”

He went on to write that many of the animals were brought to the Sennes by Southern Cross Animal Rescue, “one of the instigators of this outrage.”

Mrs. Senne was the primary caregiver of the animals because of her husband’s disabilities, some of which are a result of his service in the Vietnam War, where he was wounded and earned a Purple Heart. She “was overwhelmed with the number of animals to be cared for,” Parrish wrote. “In spite of this, they could never turn an animal down, including those dumped on them by (SCAR). Unlike (SCAR), the Sennes received no money from others, but spent their own funds in their attempt to care for these unfortunate animals to the best of their ability.”

The “gang of individuals” from the Jones County Sheriff’s Department and Humane Society of the United States who descended on their property early July 11 with the “invalid and void” Warrant for Search and Seizure was “extremely distressing,” especially to Mr. Senne, who “suffers from the early stages of dementia.”

The “gaggle of invaders” on their property caused Mr. Senne to have “flashbacks to his years fighting the Communist in Vietnam,” Parrish wrote. While his wife was trying to comfort him, she made the “best decisions she could … absent legal counsel.”

The sheriff’s department had armed deputies at the front gate, turning people away, including a scheduled pet food delivery.

She agreed to surrender all of the animals outside the home and they would be allowed to keep their five household dogs, “to whom they were bonded.” Parrish added, “She would have done the same if someone had the decency to knock on her door and say, ‘Can I help you with these animals?’”

That solution wasn’t considered, Parrish wrote, because it would not have “enabled the ‘circus’ with its attendant news media to have occurred on their property. Both defendants have sought to vilify these decent people on social and other media, one (Hodge) for political gain, the other (HSUS) to fundraise off of the misfortune of this war veteran and his wife.”

The “Animal Surrender Form-HSUS” that Mrs. Senne signed “assured them that the five housepets would not be removed from their property.”

After signing the surrender document, the Sennes “discovered that the invaders (the Sheriff and his authorized posse members) had violated the promise and agreement made and seized and removed their five household pets” and they “have been without (them) to this day.”

That’s what led to the initial lawsuit Parrish filed in Jones County Circuit Court, called a Complaint in Replevin, to get back his clients’ pets.

Before that, his clients were “viciously arrested, strip searched, incarcerated, paraded in front of television cameras and vilified on Facebook by the defendant Hodge and had their honor and integrity brought in question by the defendant (HSUS) on their internet website,” Parrish wrote. “These gestapo actions against Col. Senne and his wife subsequent to the removal of the five pets are outside the scope of this civil action and will not be discussed further.”

Parrish went on to make the case that the search and seizure of the property were unlawful, citing the constitution and case law.

He also noted that the search warrant, which was signed by Chancery Judge Frank McKenzie, was “deceptive and misleading.” Parrish wrote that McKenzie is “one of the most learned jurists” in the county, but “his expertise is mainly in areas outside of criminal law.”

In 40 years of criminal law practice, Parrish wrote that this was the first search warrant he’s ever dealt with that was signed by a chancery judge.

“This in no way implies that Judge McKenzie does not have legal authority to issue Search Warrants or that he was not acting in good faith,” Parrish wrote. “It does cause one to at least ‘raise one’s eyebrows’ as to the motivation of the officer and his superiors in seeking a criminal Search Warrant from the Judge of the Chancery Court at a time when five magistrates were available who regularly deal with the subject matter of criminal cases.”

One of the problems with the search warrant that was served by Lt. David Ward of the JCSD, Parrish wrote, is that there was no sworn testimony of anyone who had witnessed the condition of any animal alleged to have been abused. 

“The Affidavit of Officer Ward is based entirely on hearsay,” Parrish wrote.

The “unsworn statements” of Stacy Thrash, Savannah Pipkins, Heather Williams and Leanne Brewer, all of SCAR, are “fatally defective” because none was a “personal witness,” as required by law, Parrish wrote. There’s also no documentation to “conclude that the four informants (submitting 52-day-old information — relied on by Deputy Ward) were reliable and credible.” 

Hodge and HSUS failed “to present Judge McKenzie the totality of facts” to obtain the warrant, Parrish wrote, and that “renders the Sheriff and his cohorts (posse) … no more than trespassers on the property of the Plaintiffs, and renders all of their subsequent actions void and illegal.

“They cannot evade the consequences of their illegal actions” by invoking the ‘I ain’t got it no more’ defense with any more validity than a common thief,” Parrish wrote.

The Sennes were required to post $4,750 in order to appear in court to contest the seizure of their pets or they would be confiscated, Parrish wrote, and “that part of the law is patently unconstitutional.”

Parrish went on to note that the Jones County Justice Court, where the Sennes made their initial appearance for animal cruelty charges, “had no jurisdiction over the subject matter” and the case should have been heard in chancery court.

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