The numbers are staggering in the Westport farm animal cruelty case.
They run from zero to 1.4 million and all mean something.
On July 20, 2016, approximately 1,400 animals were found starving, dying or dead in squalid, rat-infested, disease-ridden conditions by Westport police on a 70-acre “tenant farm” buried deep in the woods off American Legion Highway.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals called it “the worst case of animal cruelty in the history of the northeast” and took charge of the disaster on July 28 to assist local animal care agencies, which were overwhelmed.
At least 50 workers were brought in immediately to care for the neglected and abused creatures — from cows to goats, to pigs and more — who were found without food, water, medical care or clean pens.
Dozens more from another 16 animal care and protection agencies, some coming 3,000 miles from Washington state and California arrived to assist.
Many of the animals, which included cows, horses, birds, cats, dogs, goats, pigs, sheep, rabbits and fish, were found dead. Others were deathly ill and had to be euthanized.
The rest were suffering from hunger, thirst, disease and pens so foul that some were layered with as much as 12 inches of excrement, Jeff Majewski, a detective for the Westport police with 28 years on the job, said.
He said the environment he encountered was the stuff of nightmares.
“There were horrific, horrific conditions,” he said.
Majewski quoted one worker from the Animal Rescue League in Boston as saying working on the tenant farm was like “going to Hell every day.”
Another significant number is the number two.
It’s the second time a case like that has happened on that property which is owned and operated by Richard Medeiros, 83, of Westport.
Similar conditions were found there in 2010, Majewski said.
In the current case, the survivors, about 1,075 animals, were removed from their misery to an emergency shelter run by the ASPCA where they were treated for illness, cleaned, fed, watered and loved.
In November 2016, an ASPCA press release reported that 650 people from 44 animal agencies staffed the shelter.
From there, the animals went to 23 shelters in 13 states, where adoptions to good homes began.
By the end of December 2016, it had cost the ASPCA $1.4 million to care for the animals.
Majewski said the police report ran 103 pages and 34,000 photos were taken to document the cruel conditions in which the animals suffered.
And finally, after seven months of investigation, 27 humans were indicted on 151 counts of animal cruelty.
Of the 27 humans, one was the owner of the property and 26 were the animal owners who rented space from him. The 83-year-old property owner faces 21 counts of animal cruelty, the most of all the defendants. In a published report he said was “unaware” of the abuse.
They’ve all been arraigned and all have pleaded not guilty to the charges which could land each one in the house of correction for up to 2-1/2 years or state prison for up to seven years if found guilty, according to a spokeswoman for Attorney General Maura Healey who took over the case from the Bristol County District Attorney.
A fine of $5,000 could also be imposed.
No trial dates have been set, spokeswoman Chloe Gotsis said.
She said prosecutors intend to contact defense attorneys with sentencing recommendations if their clients choose to change their pleas to guilty to avoid a trial.
That effort is expected to be completed by the beginning of the new year.
She said Healey is committed to seeing that “justice is served.”
“The Westport Farm case is the largest investigation of animal cruelty in the history of New England. We have alleged that hundreds of animals suffered and died at the hands of Richard Medeiros and his tenants. We are committed to seeing that justice is served,” Gotsis said in an emailed statement.
Others, like animal advocates Roxanne Houghton from Attleboro and Jodi Greenleaf from North Attleboro aren’t so sure.
Both have been involved in the rescue effort and both have worked on behalf of animals for years.
“Our fear is they are just going to fold,” Houghton said of prosecutors during a recent interview. “We’re afraid the attorney general is going to ask for stiff penalties, but if a judge shows any reluctance in accepting those penalties, they’ll back down.”
In a case so horrific, penalties for those found guilty must be severe, she said.
“If they don’t serve jail time, all this means nothing. The animal cruelty laws mean nothing,” Houghton said.
Greenleaf hopes each case goes to trial so all the nightmarish details of what was found on the farm are displayed for all to see.
“If it doesn’t go to trial no one will ever see the extreme nature of this case,” she said. “They need to hear the testimony and see the evidence. To me this is stunning, it still seems to me that this couldn’t have happened.”
Lack of confidence
Like Houghton, she lacks confidence that prosecutors will seek and judges will impose stiff penalties if pleas are changed to guilty or if defendants are found guilty at trial.
“We’re watching every move, but we’re not confident justice will be done,” she said.
Majewski, the Westport police officer, echoed the women.
“I completely share those concerns,” he told The Sun Chronicle.
And there’s good reason, he said.
Prosecutors and judges have not inflicted stiff penalties on animal abusers in recent years.
In the 2010 case at the Medeiros property, nine people were charged.
None went to jail or suffered serious repercussions. Some of the cases were simply continued without a finding, Majewski said.
Another Westport case, known in the press as the “house of horrors” case, was resolved in September with the judicial system chalking up another zero for punishment.
In that case, a man, a woman and a 17-year-old juvenile were all charged with six counts of animal cruelty after authorities found two dead dogs, a dead lizard and several live cats in their abandoned home.
None of the three served jail time.
The district attorney requested 90 days of jail time for the man and two years probation. The judge gave him two years of probation and counseling.
The DA requested two years of probation for the woman, but the judge simply continued her case without a finding for 18 months.
She was not allowed to possess or house any animals.
The case against the teenager was dropped.
It’s a disturbing trend, Majewski said.
In some instances with numerous defendants, Majewski understands why prosecutors go for plea deals.
It creates more efficiency in the system and reduces costs, but justice still needs to be done, he said.
Much pain has been caused and punishment can’t be pain free, Majewski said.
“The penalties should be commensurate with what the statute says,” he said. “These are seven-year felonies and these were innocent, defenseless animals that relied on humans to care for them. People need to be held accountable.”
While he and anyone who witnessed the immense suffering of the animals was greatly distressed, he was heartened by the rescue efforts and the treatment of the animals in the shelter where they recovered and were safe.
“It was like therapy to see them thrive after seeing them in that hell,” Majewski said.
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