Trial set to begin Monday in Napiers animal-cruelty case
MANATEE -- Nearly a year after the raid on Napier's Log Cabin Horse and Animal Sanctuary resulted in the confiscation of about 300 animals discovered in atrocious conditions, the owners of the animal rescue will stand trial.
Alan Napier is facing one count of scheming to defraud $50,000, three counts of soliciting to defraud and 15 counts of animal cruelty.
Sheree Napier is facing 14 counts of animal cruelty, one count of scheming to defraud $50,000 and one count of soliciting to defraud.
If convicted, the couple could face from just more than three years or a maximum of 85 years in prison if sentenced consecutively, according to Assistant State Attorney Garret Franzen. The couple is out on bond.
On Monday, jury selections will begin, but are expected to take as long as two days because of the media attention and community uproar the case has created over the past year. Circuit Judge Peter Dubensky will preside over the case.
Jason Reid, defense attorney for Alan Napier, did not return calls for comment. Assistant Public Defender Jennifer Joynt-Sanchez, attorney for Sheree Napier, declined to comment.
The Napiers were first arrested April 7, and the again June 2, on charges stemming from the sheriff's office investigation.
Edward Dunham, a licensed veterinarian listed as the director of veterinary medicine at Napier's, was also charged in the case, but will not go to trial after entering into a pre-trial diversion contract. If he completes all the requirements during his 12 months of supervision, the state will drop the charges against him.
Dunham, charged with one count of aggravated animal cruelty, was forced to surrender all his licenses to practice veterinarian medicine.
The State Attorney's Office offered Dunham pre-trial diversion after consulting with law enforcement, Franzen said.
Florida Dachshund Rescue President Debra Bird has been waiting for the Napier's to face justice after about 10 years of complaining to Manatee County Animal Services about them.
"I'm very excited, I'd be dancing in the street if I could," Bird said. "He's been making his money off of the back of those poor animals for years."
Bird said she and others became extremely frustrated over the years, when their complaints to Animal Services did not result in any change, but instead she believes the Napiers were warned about complaints.
The foul odor from the property could be smelled from at least 200 feet away, she said.
"We finally had to do something illegal to get something done," Bird said recalling how she and two others trespassed onto the Napier property to obtain photographs. "I was willing to go to jail for it."
The pictures, however, were not permissible in court because of the way they had been obtained, law enforcement later told them.
Following the raid on Napier's, Manatee County Animal Services came under fire for having continued to send animals for years to the animal sanctuary despite receiving complaints that animals were receiving improper care. The Manatee County Sheriff's Office, which led the raid on Napier's property, investigated whether complaints were properly handled by Animal Services employees but later determined there was insufficient evidence to file criminal charges.
After receiving the sheriff's report, county officials decided to commission an outside firm to audit the department.
In August, Kris Weiskopf, formerly the chief of animal services, was transferred to another department. The county then named retired Public Safety Director Bill Hutchison the interim chief. In November, Public Safety Director Ron Koper Jr., who oversaw the division, left county employment, and Laurie Feagans took over as interim director.
In December, the Matrix Consulting Group of Edwardsville released their audit report of Animal Services. Among the recommendations were the building of a newer shelter, the addition of staffing, changes to the contracts with local rescues and annual inspections of those rescues.
Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter@JDeLeon1012.