MANATEE -- Sheriff's investigators have concluded there is insufficient evidence to file criminal charges against employees at the Manatee County Animal Services Division in connection with an animal cruelty case at a local shelter.
But the 484-page report issued Monday did reveal serious problems such as poor sanitation and lack of food and water for animals at the private Napier's Log Cabin Horse and Animal Sanctuary, which transpired over many years.
A Manatee County Sheriff's Office investigation found "the burden of probable cause has not been reached to submit criminal charges on any one individual at Manatee County Animal Services with regards to Florida Statutes for official misconduct of neglect, malfeasance or misfeasance," according to a summary of the sheriff's office report.
The report details how Manatee County Animal Services Division workers handled complaints about the shelter at 20010 State Road 64 E., which law enforcement officers raided in February.
The sheriff's office began investigating the animal services staff after numerous complaints surfaced during its investigation of the Napier shelter.
According to the summary, the county placed 135 cats and 151 dogs at the shelter from 2007-2014. During that time, 39 complaints were filed with the Animal Services Division.
Of 39 complaints, 20 arrived via email. Of the 20 emailed complaints, four were followed up by an animal services officer and 16 were not, according to the summary.
It did not specify the outcome of the four complaints the division did investigate.
However, emails and written items about the workings of the Napier sanctuary showed serious problems over many years.
On a visit in 2004, Manatee County sheriff's deputies reported the Napier property was "unkempt and dirty" and "some horses did not have food and water," according to the summary.
In 2007, county animal services employees found the animals in good health, but made the Napiers clean up "for sanitary conditions."
In 2009, employees of Hillsborough County Animal Services inspected the Napier facility and documented substandard conditions, including:
Some puppies had no water.
Strong odor of ammonia/urine and feces.
Excessive fleas around animals and food.
Numerous dogs with skin conditions.
They reported the findings to their counterparts in Manatee County but there was no documentation here showing any follow-up, according to the summary.
Nor did Manatee County officials follow Hillsborough's lead in halting animal transfers to the Napier facility as a result of substandard conditions.
In 2010, Manatee Animal Services chief Kris Weiskopf wrote a letter, which was provided to Hillsborough County Animal Services, in which he said the animals were in good health and thanked sanctuary owner Alan Napier, whom he called "invaluable."
The same year, a Manatee County deputy investigated a neighbor's complaint about conditions on the property and the care of the animals there.
The private shelter remains closed after Alan Napier and his wife, Sheree Napier, were charged in connection with an animal cruelty case.
After the raid, more than 300 animals were confiscated, many in serious distress.
The Napiers have pleaded not guilty, and have said through their attorney they feel they have done nothing wrong and hope to reopen.
"It's a typical investigative report," said Manatee County Commission Chairman Larry Bustle, one of the few who had access to the whole report Monday.
"They were looking to see if there was criminal conduct and their conclusion is that there was not -- at least on the part of the Manatee County Animal Services," he said. "I really don't think I have enough to draw a major conclusion. I'm very happy the sheriff didn't think there was any criminal conduct. I didn't think so personally."
However, Bustle added this caveat: "When you start talking about management and leadership, you get into a different area. Policy and procedures can be a problem, and not willful conduct."
The sheriff's report said any administrative or procedural concerns found by detectives during the six-month investigation would be forwarded to county officials upon request.
Karen Windon, a deputy Manatee County administrator, said she had not had a chance to read the report.
"It would be premature to comment," she said.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.