| News |

A judge orders six horses returned to the same owners who were accused of neglect

Keep Westword Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Denver and help keep the future of Westword free.

Ron Swift and Randall Hatlee -- the Echo Valley Ranch owners being charged with three counts of animal cruelty -- will have their six horses returned to them as the prosecution continues. In a probable cause hearing on April 10, Park County Judge Brian Green found that the horses wouldn't be in substantial danger if they remain in custody of their original owners. On February 23, six Echo Valley Ranch horses were seized by the Park County Sherriff's after one horse died from a bacterial infection near the heart, and six others were found emaciated.

Undersheriff Monte Gore wrote in a press release following the seizure, "It was an infection that killed the horse, however, we feel that the owner's of the horses should have contacted a qualified veterinarian much earlier then they did."

Gore added that the six horses showed improvement in health after they were placed under the custody of the Park County Sheriff's Office and given food and water.

So why did Judge Green order to return the horses to their owners? Park County DA Steve Sullivan, who is acting as the main prosecutor in the case, describes the case as a "somewhat complex legal decision" involving two components.

Under Colorado revised statute, Judge Green was looking for probable cause to believe (1) Swift and Hatlee had violated an act of animal cruelty, and (2) if kept in their custody, the horses' health would be endangered.

According to Sullivan, Judge Green did find evidence to support component one of the statute, but did not find evidence to support component two. "Judge Green concluded there was not probable cause to believe that as a result of animal cruelty, the animals were endangered," Sullivan says.

The April 10 hearing included a medical opinion by a veterinarian that influenced the judge's decision to return the horses. "The opinion was that the horses had been left out to pasture for too lengthy an amount of time without feed--so the horses were essentially neglected." Sullivan says. "But, at some point [Swift and Hatlee] did decide to bring them in from pasture in a more localized setting."

Sullivan says Park County Animal Control will have "unfettered access to the horses" upon their return to Swift and Hatlee, where they will continue to monitor the horses' health.

Theprosecution is ongoing and the owners will return to court for a pre-trial conference on May 15 at 1 pm.

Look below to see photos of Little Big Man after he was seized, and click here to view an entire slide show of images.

More from our Follow That Story archive: "Video: Wild horse roundups featuring burros being 'hotshotted' are kinder, gentler?"

Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.