Roy Exum: Tennessee’s New ‘Horse’ Bill

Wednesday, May 30, 2012 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum
With regrettably little media fanfare, on May 21 Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam signed into state law a bill that will make animal abuse a felony instead of a misdemeanor. This means that anyone who is caught in the state who is found guilty of “aggravated cruelty to livestock” can be subjected to Class E felony sentencing guidelines of “no less than one year imprisonment and no more than five years” when the new law takes effect on July 1, 2012.
The welcome bill, sponsored by State Senator Douglas Henry (D-Nashville) and Rep. Gary Odom (D-Nashville), is the most heartening news to come in the wake of a scathing undercover video that cast a nationwide pall on the state’s walking horse industry and has triggered new-found belief that the soring and abuse of show horses is still quite prevalent in the state and the industry itself.
Under the Tennessee bill, SB 2759, any persons who commit “aggravated cruelty to a livestock animal who, in a depraved and sadistic manner, intentionally engages in any conduct …. that results in serious bodily injury or the death of that animal” can be jailed, fined and could “surrender custody and forfeit all of their livestock animals in their possession.”
What constitutes “aggravated cruelty to livestock,” according to the bill, are the following offenses:
-- Setting an animal on fire;
-- Burning an animal with any hot object;
-- Cutting or stabbing an animal with any object;
-- Causing blunt force trauma to an animal;
-- Securing an animal to a vehicle and dragging it;
-- Blinding an animal;
-- Applying acid or other caustic substance or chemical to any exposed area of an animal or forcing the animal to ingest the substance;
-- Hanging a live animal;
-- Skinning an animal while it is alive;
-- Administering electric shock to an animal;
 -- Drowning an animal; or
-- Shooting a (livestock) animal with a weapon.
Obviously there are exceptions to the bill, such as “dispatching rabid, diseased, sick or injured livestock animals” and while the only worrisome loophole is “applying methods and equipment used to train livestock animals,” the intent is quite clear. Prosecutors believe the bill SB-2759 will greatly enhance enforcement and prosecution of trainers such as Barney Davis and Jackie McConnell who have pleaded guilty in Federal Court of conspiracy to violate the federal Horse Protection Act.
Unfortunately, current federal guidelines include no jail time but Davis was also found guilty of obstruction of justice and threatening a witness. On those charges the gaited-horse trainer was sentenced to a year in prison, three years of supervised release and fined $4,000. Two others who also pleaded guilty at the time, associates Christen Altman and Jeffery Bradford, were each sentenced to one year of federal probation.
At the time Davis was sentenced, he alleged soring was widespread in the walking horse industry and showed examples of chains, bolts, bocks and eight-pound tungsten shoes that scofflaws use for the exaggerated gait in horse shows. He told a Federal Court “everybody” was soring the beautiful animals.
McConnell, widely-known as a “hot” trainer for the last three decades, also pleaded guilty to conspiracy in a trial last week and he and three associates - Jeff Dockery, John Mays, and Joseph R. Abernathy - are scheduled to be sentenced in Chattanooga on Sept. 10 by federal judge Sandy Mattice. Federal guidelines for violations of the Horse Protection Act are woefully weak and Judge Mattice could veer from accepting the plea deal.
As a matter of fact, the Horse Protection Act was introduced in 1970 but until federal prosecutors in East Tennessee took on Davis and McConnell at an inspector’s insistence, there have not been any guilty pleas registered in 40 years of federal oversight. Justice officials on the federal and state level, now aware of the chronic abuse and the continuing soring, vow there will be further indictments.
Celebration officials announced Monday that of 599 horses that appeared over the Memorial Day weekend at the 42nd Annual Spring Fun Show in Shelbyville, only 16 showed problems, but Keith Dane, the director of equine protection for the Humane Society of the United States, said one horse at the show had a record of eight previous HPA violations.
Dane, who is on the board of directors of the Tenn. Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association, is being blamed for the undercover video that CBS aired on “Nightline” and will face an expulsion hearing in late June from the Celebration group. The hearing, which will be closed to the public, is June 22 in Lewisburg.
McConnell, still awaiting trial in Fayetteville, Tn., on state charges next month, was banned from all Celebrations events for life last week and now other horse shows and organizations have decreed the Collierville trainer will not be welcome at events this summer.
Owners of Tennessee Walking Horses across the country are urging their states to adapt similar laws to the new Tennessee legislation and feel “jail time” is the best deterrent to the trainers and owners who will cheat in order to win a blue ribbon.

Not Thrilled With The Parking Rate Increase

Mark your calendars for Sept. 1—the day the Chattanooga Parking Authority has announced it will raise parking rates around the city. In addition to the rate hikes, the Parking Authority will extend enforceable hours from 4:30-6 p.m.  and will include Saturdays as well. The Parking Authority has allowed for a learning curve, however, saying that during the month of September, ... (click for more)

Tell Congress To Protect AmeriCorps

In June, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees approved separate spending bills that would reduce opportunities for young people to serve their county, by cutting the AmeriCorps program, by as much as 34%.  These cuts mean half as many AmeriCorps members serving with local programs like Southeast Conservation Corps. These members build local trails, remove invasive ... (click for more)

Boy, 4, Struck By Vehicle Near Tunnel Boulevard

A four-year-old boy was struck by a vehicle near Tunnel Boulevard on Saturday afternoon. A t approximately 4:20 p.m.,  the Chattanooga Police Department responded to 3400 Through St. on a c hild struck by a vehicle.  T he victim was conscious when officers arrived. He was transported to a local hospital. I nvestigators are continuing to compile ... (click for more)

Assessor Bennett, Former Assessor Ramsey In Jetton Camp For Assessor Of Property

Assessor of Property Bill Bennett and former Assessor Claude Ramsey recommended Sterling Jetton as the next assessor at a breakfast fundraiser at Wally's Restaurant in East Ridge on Saturday morning. Mr. Jetton, who spent 27 years in the assessor's office, is running against County Commissioner Marty Haynes in the March 1 Republican primary. Noting the political heavyweights ... (click for more)

Ellington, Bell Win First Running Of Jasper Highlands 5K

  JASPER, Tenn. – The Chattanooga Track Club introduced its newest race on Saturday as the inaugural running of the Jasper Highlands 5K was held high atop the Cumberland Plateau.   Advertised as “the most scenic community in Marion County,” Knoxville’s Stewart Ellington put his name on the list as the first winner by covering the rolling 3.1-mile distance in 16 ... (click for more)

Baylor Sweeps Two Nashville Teams In Volleyball Saturday

Volleyball teams from Brentwood Academy and Pope John Paul II have at least one thing in common on Saturday following matches with Baylor and GPS.  They both headed back to Nashville with a win and a loss as both beat GPS and both lost to Baylor. Baylor improved to 13-1 overall and 3-0 in region play with Saturday's two wins, including a 3-1 verdict over Brentwood ... (click for more)