The attorney for an elderly couple whose pets were seized found a “disturbing” inconsistency in the criminal complaint and said the Jones County Sheriff’s Department is “out of control” in his most recent filing in Jones County Circuit Court.
J. Ronald Parrish wrote that “new information has come to light concerning the nefarious activity” of the defendants — the JCSD and the Humane Society — “from the inception of their illegal persecution” of his clients, and he’s making the court aware of it.
According to the criminal complaint against Col. David and Mary Ellen Senne, Stacy Thrash and Heather Williams of Southern Cross Animal Rescue and Lt. David Ward of the JCSD met at attorney Andrew Cardwell’s office and participated in a conference call with officials from the Humane Society of the United States on June 29.
Then, on July 10, Ward and Cardwell met with Chancery Judge Frank McKenzie to get a warrant signed for the search and seizure of animals at the Sennes’ property on Lyon Ranch Road.
But when Cardwell was served papers to appear in Jones County Circuit Court on Sept. 11 for an initial hearing, he wrote back to Parrish that he could not accept the papers because “I do not represent either Defendant … and have not represented either party in any capacity at any time in the past.”
In that initial hearing, Sheriff Alex Hodge appeared in court with Board of Supervisors attorney Danielle Ashley, saying he learned through the news media that he was supposed to be in court but hadn’t been served with papers.
“The Deputy in charge of process (Bob Shoemake), we are led to believe, could not, or would not, serve his employer Defendant Hodge,” Parrish wrote.
The document that Parrish discovered “is revealing,” he wrote. In the meeting between Cardwell, the SCAR members and Ward, it was decided that the JCSD would become the “initiating agency” and affiant on the search and seizure warrant, and Cardwell would complete the warrant.
Parrish called that a “disturbing” scenario: “Private organizations are colluding with law enforcement to bring about search and seizure of property belonging to law-abiding citizens based on an investigation launched by a private organization (SCAR) dating back to May of 2018. Nowhere is any independent investigation of law enforcement mentioned.”
Because of the background, “questions abound” surrounding the investigation and search, and Parrish listed some of them:
• What was the real motive of SCAR?
• Who was attorney Cardwell representing in the conference call with Defendant HSUS and in preparing the search warrant?
• If it was not Sheriff Hodge, why is an attorney for a private party setting up a conference call and preparing search warrants?
• Have all parties been candid with Circuit Court?
• Was a fraud committed on the Chancery Court in securing the warrant from Judge McKenzie by not providing Judge McKenzie with all pertinent information to which he was entitled?
• What was the real motive of Defendant HSUS since it does not run a single pet shelter in the United States?
Parrish also noted that the JCSD incident report lists his clients’ offense as “failure to provide sustenance” and lists Mississippi Code 97-41-9, which makes it a crime for “failure to provide sustenance to a living creature ‘OTHER THAN A DOG OR CAT,’” which are “the only species of animals in question” in this case.
He also posed the question of why the Sennes were arrested on July 16 and “paraded before the news media” after being jailed and strip-searched “instead of being called to Justice Court to sign a bond as is customary in misdemeanor cases and provided for in the Mississippi Rules of Criminal Procedure?”
The warrant “disturbingly gives a private party the right to enter onto the property of plaintiffs and take pictures and other questionable activities for the purpose of fundraising,” Parrish wrote, referring to HSUS. It also allows HSUS to serve as a “surrogate” for the JCSD to “grossly violate” the rules of criminal procedure in an “orchestrated attempt to create a lynch mob atmosphere against the Plaintiffs,” he wrote.
Parrish attached exhibits to support all of his claims. All of the information was included in his reply to a motion that was filed by attorney Christina J. Smith of Brookhaven, who is now helping represent Hodge and HSUS in the case.
Hodge’s attorneys filed a Motion for Reconsideration after Circuit Judge Dal Williamson ordered Parrish to make the attorney general a party to his complaint because of the questions of constitutionality surrounding the seizure of the Sennes’ five personal pets during the raid on their property.
Parrish concluded, “This case is rife with injustice inflicted upon (the Sennes) by an out-of-control Sheriff’s Department (or, in the most benign interpretation, misguided).”