A screenshot of a video shows a Humane Society of the United States representative and Jones County Sheriff's Maj. Jamie Tedford on July 11, 2018, on Lyon Ranch Road in Jones County.

HSUS official told Jones couple personal pets wouldn’t be taken

A video of a Humane Society official saying that Mary Ellen and Col. David Sennes’ personal pet dogs would not be seized during a July raid on their property on Lyon Ranch Road made for some compelling evidence at a hearing in Jones County Circuit Court in Ellisville on Monday.

Attorneys for Sheriff Alex Hodge and the Humane Society of the United States were unaware of the video, which was introduced by the Sennes’ attorney J. Ronald Parrish. The video was shot by Leader-Call Editor Sean Murphy, who is the Sennes’ godson, and his wife Michelle. Murphy was at the property as an advocate of the Sennes and not in his role as newspaper editor. He has not reported on the raid for this newspaper. 

Sheriff’s attorney Will Allen and HSUS attorney Scott Ellzey did not object to playing the video during the replevin hearing, which has to do with getting seized property returned to the owner. The first scheduled hearing had to be delayed because the sheriff’s office didn’t serve Hodge with papers to be in court. 

Parrish filed a lawsuit against the sheriff to get back the Sennes’ five dogs that they kept as pets because they were seized, which went against a verbal agreement that was made on July 11, when dozens of people from HSUS, the sheriff’s department and other officials seized more than 80-plus rescue animals that were in the Sennes’ care.

A Humane Society representative who was at the raid is on the video saying repeatedly that their personal dogs “would not be touched” and that they “would be exempt from the seizure.” (She kept saying “four” dogs instead of five.) Mrs. Senne pointed out that their dogs were on the houseboat on the property that was called “Wonderland.” Maj. Jamie Tedford of the Jones County Sheriff’s Department was standing beside the HSUS rep every time she said that the Sennes’ dogs would not be taken. 

But when the Sennes went back to the houseboat after the raid, their dogs were gone.

Judge Dal Williamson said that the video evidence “concerns me.”

Defense attorneys said that the dogs and cats “are spread all over the United States,” and they had no idea where they are now. But they argued that it’s a moot point because the Sennes missed the deadline to file an appeal. They also argued that since neither HSUS nor the JCSD has the dogs any more, there can be no replevin.

Parrish protested, saying that they can’t use the “I ain’t got it no more” defense. 

“If that is the only reason to deny a replevin case, then it would be impossible for anyone to win a replevin because all they have to say is, ‘I ain’t got it no more,’” he said.

The Sennes had five days from the July 11 raid to file an appeal for the return of their five dogs that HSUS agreed to not seize. The fifth day — July 16 — was when they were arrested on animal cruelty charges, taken to the Jones County Adult Detention Center, strip-searched and walked in front of TV cameras at Jones County Justice Court before being released on their own recognizance by Judge Billie Graham on the misdemeanor charge.

Three days after the July 16 appeal went unfiled, County Attorney Brad Thompson went to Judge Graham with a motion to have the dogs forfeited and she signed it.

Parrish hammered on that point because the Sennes were never made aware that a motion had been filed. They found out about it only when they sued HSUS and the sheriff to get their dogs back and that order was included in the discovery material.

Parrish also made a strong point that the forfeiture motion should have been filed in the same court that granted the search warrant — Jones County Chancery Court — instead of Justice Court. Parrish also noted in his complaint that it was the first time in his 40 years of criminal law practice that a search warrant for a criminal matter was signed by a chancery judge.

Judge Williamson asked the lawyers to get him case law to go over and he hoped to make a ruling Friday on whether to declare summary judgment. A summary judgment is a decision that is made by the judge without a full trial.

The dogs that were seized — but weren’t supposed to be, according to the video — are described as:

• Precious, a partially blind poodle mix that’s about 15 years old;

• Abby, a 40-pound mixed breed that’s about 12 years old, partially blind and deaf;

• Miss Poo, a 20-year-old blind and deaf poodle that’s on medication;

• Sister Angel, a 20-year-old poodle that’s deaf and has a skin problems;

• Coco, a 20-year-old blind and deaf poodle with skin issues that’s on heart medication.

For the purpose of the complaint, the value of the “withheld property” is $5,000, “but the value to the Plaintiffs of their aforementioned house pets is incalculable,” Parrish wrote.

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