Guilford County D.A. dismisses citations filed against former animal shelter director

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GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. -- On Wednesday, the Guilford County District Attorney's Office dismissed the charges filed against the former director of the Guilford County Animal Shelter and slammed Sheriff BJ Barnes' decision to file charges.

"Sheriff Barnes was widely quoted in the local media as saying there was abundant evidence of numerous felony charges against shelter employee(s) in the areas of animal cruelty, controlled substances and finances," District Attorney J. Douglas Henderson wrote Wednesday. "This was not true then and is not true now.

"One might reasonably ask Sheriff Barnes why he made such reckless and groundless public pronouncements when he knew or could have found out by asking detectives that his statements were not true."

Barnes filed the five misdemeanors just a week after Henderson initially said there was not enough evidence to press charges against Marsha Williams, the former director of the county's animal shelter. Williams is still facing animal cruelty charges in Davidson County.

In the letter, Henderson also noted that Barnes could not have conducted an impartial investigation because he served on the United Animal Coalition Board of Directors.

"In spite of this, he had his department conduct the investigation into possible criminal wrongdoing by the shelter employees he had a hand in hiring through the UAC board," Henderson wrote.

Beyond that, Henderson explained that all five cases in question dealt with dogs that arrived at the shelter in poor condition and were euthanized a few days later. He said there is no evidence that shows that Williams personally saw any of those dogs.

"Differences of opinions about the timing of euthanasia under these circumstances cannot support the criminal prosecution of the shelter's director," he wrote.

At this point, Henderson said the matter is settled unless new evidence is presented.

Sheriff BJ Barnes responded to Henderson's press release Wednesday afternoon, stating that it was inaccurate in a number of ways.

These include, but are not limited to, the following:

1) While it is true that the Sheriff was placed on the UAC Board by third parties, he was not a voting member of the Board but rather a liaison between the Board and the County. Moreover, the Sheriff was not notified of most of the meetings. As such, he recalls that he only attended a total of two meetings during the years prior to the subject incidents.

2) With respect to the 1st paragraph on the 2nd page of the District Attorney’s press release today, it is entirely untrue that the Sheriff had a hand in hiring animal shelter personnel through the UAC Board.

3) Furthermore, it is precisely because the Sheriff had some liaison role with the UAC that the Sheriff requested the State Bureau of Investigation independently evaluate the criminal investigation conducted by the Sheriff’s Office. The SBI concluded that the case had been properly handled by the Sheriff’s Office.

4) The District Attorney is incorrect when he stated that the citations were “fatally defective as to form and substance.” In fact, there were only some minor problems with the wording of the citations. Furthermore, the Sheriff’s Office expressly offered to work with the District Attorney’s Office to correct or amend these minor wording issues; however the District Attorney chose not to do so.

5) The District Attorney’s claim and to quote “There is no evidence of …..any failure to act, that worsened the medical condition of the dogs at the animal shelter”, is entirely incorrect. A misdemeanor violation of the cruelty to animals’ statute (NCGS 14-360 (a)) can be committed by knowingly failing or neglecting to act which causes or permits unjustifiable pain and suffering. There was ample evidence in the information provided by the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office to the District Attorney’s Office that Marsha Williams knew of the conditions of these animals, that she retained sole decision-making authority over the power to euthanize these animals, but delayed euthanization for unreasonably long periods of time, thus prolonging the suffering of the injured or sick animals.

6) The District Attorney’s comparison of the animal shelter investigation to the Duke Lacrosse case is entirely inappropriate. The decisions made by the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office were based on real not manufactured evidence. The District Attorney expresses dissatisfaction with the Sheriff’s decision to issue citations to Marsha Williams over the District Attorney’s objection. However, members of the Sheriff’s office took an oath, to enforce the laws of the State of NC and those citations were issued in obedience to that solemn oath.

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