Manatee County will probe Napier animal shelter case

skennedy@bradenton.comFebruary 12, 2014 

MANATEE -- Vowing they "can and will do better in the future," county officials said they plan to conduct an internal audit to evaluate how complaints about animal cruelty at the Napier Family Farm and Animal Rescue have been handled.

The probe, which will be conducted by the office of Clerk of the Circuit Court R.B. "Chips" Shore, will review how Manatee County Animal Services employees dealt with those who operated the East Manatee farm, dating to 2009 or before, said Deputy County Administrator Karen Windon.

"We will be cooperating in every way possible," she told county commissioners during their meeting Tuesday.

A multi-agency law enforcement effort led by the sheriff's office executed a search warrant last Wednesday at the farm, 20010 State Road 64 E., rescuing roughly 300 animals from deplorable conditions.

Peter Lombardo, an attorney for owners Alan and Sheree Napier, said they were allowed back on their property Tuesday after authorities had concluded use of it as a possible crime scene.

The Napiers said authorities left two dogs in a kennel without food or water after the raid last week. Lombardo said the couple took the dogs with them, and the animals will live.

Dave Bristow, spokesman for the Manatee County Sheriff's Office, said he did not know anything about the dogs or the circumstances to which Lombardo was referring.

A half-dozen members of the public issued scorching critiques at the commission meeting of county animal services personnel, saying they had not done enough to halt animal abuse at the privately owned rescue shelter.

After hundreds of animals were confiscated Feb. 5, eight more horses were rescued Monday from another Napier-owned property in Myakka City. One dog taken from the farm had to be euthanized Tuesday, according to Bristow.

"The good thing is, we think the majority of the animals will be saved," he said.

At the commission meeting, Betty Kish said she wanted to know whether any county inspections had taken place at the farm.

"If they allowed no inspection, there should have been no animals transferred there, and they should have been shut down," said Kish. "If there was an inspection, anyone who did it should be fired. That place didn't get that way overnight."

Nathan Levinson said he faulted Kris Weiskopf, chief of the animal services division. "Your constituents demand answers and actions on all these things," he said.

Lombardo said his clients thought county personnel had done a good job.

"Unfortunately, the Napiers got a lot of sick animals," he said. "It's like blaming doctors" when they they are doing their best to treat ill patients, Lombardo said.

The Napiers saved a lot of dogs, cats and horses that otherwise would have been put down, Lombardo said.

No arrests have been made, but officials have said the Napiers could face multiple animal cruelty and fraud charges.

The couple will contest confiscation of their animals, and are innocent of wrongdoing, Lombardo said.

"It's our position they did nothing wrong," he said.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.

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