Soring case against Larry Wheelon Stables rides on warrant
By Iva Butler | (email@example.com)
Blount County General Sessions Court Judge Robert L. Headrick will make a ruling today on a motion to declare the search warrant on Larry Wheelon Stables as illegal.
If the warrant is thrown out, charges of aggravated cruelty to animals against Larry Joe Wheelon, 68, Miracle Landing Drive, Maryville, will be dismissed. If the judge allows the warrant, the court will proceed with a preliminary hearing.
Wheelon was charged April 25 after a raid on his stables at 2742 Tuckaleechee Pike, Maryville.
At the raid, 19 of 27 horses were seized, reportedly suffering from soring, and several items were confiscated from the stables.
Soring is a practice used on Tennessee Walking Horses to make them step higher. A caustic chemical is applied to make the horses feet and legs sore.
Wheelon’s attorney Rob White contended in a hearing Tuesday that the search warrant is woefully lacking in necessary details for a legal warrant and should be thrown out.
The search warrant stemmed from an earlier undercover raid conducted by U.S. Department of Agriculture Special Agent Julie McMillan.
The agent reportedly received information that horses were being sored at Wheelon Stables and paid an undercover visit to the stables on April 17. She then obtained a search warrant which was executed April 18.
White and Blount County Assistant District Attorney Ellen Berez argued the points of the warrant for three hours in court Tuesday.
White contended the warrant is “woefully lacking” in specific details, such as on the visit of McMillan to the stables, what she witnessed there, that the barn is open to the public and information on the confidential informants who reported the abuse.
He also contends that McMillan cannot be declared an expert in the cases of soring through her educational background.
The warrant stated that one confidential informant witnessed a horse in a stall in the bucket stance, which is a posture relative to a sore horse, that one was lying on its side and would not get up, and that the legs of one horse had cellophane, cotton wraps and duct tape on them, which is also indicative of soring agents being applied.
White called a veterinarian expert, Dr. John Bennett, who testified the bucket stance, where the horses’ feet are so close together they would fit in a five-gallon bucket, could indicate soring or that the horse had foundered, or other reasons. He said the only way to be definite was to do a complete exam and make the horse move around to determine if it was sore.
He said the wraps with cellophane, cotton wraps and duct tape could be protection for the horses’ legs and again a complete exam was needed.
Berez called as a witness Dr. Rachel Cezar, who is the USDA official assigned to work on soring. She is a veterinarian who oversees federal medical veterinarian offices all over the country. She oversees enforcement of the Horse Protection Act.
Judge Headrick agreed she is an expert witness.
Cezar testified a horse standing in a bucket stance is sore and is trying to apply weight more on the back legs than the front legs.
She also said the use of cellophane is indicative of soring.
Cezar said she has received anonymous complaints about illegal activities at Wheelon’s stables but never discussed it with McMillan.
White argued the information in the warrant on the confidential informants is “woefully insufficient.” The information says they are reliable and have been reliable in the past but does not say whether it is in horse cases and if their information has led to convictions.
Berez said information from citizen informants is presumed to be reliable.
Headrick is to review the arguments and make a ruling today.