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Wolff gets one year probation

BY Carolyn Muyskens - cmuyskens@chronicle-tribune.com

A Howard County man who investigators said mistreated horses on his Grant County property will serve one year on probation after he took a plea deal on Monday.

Douglas Wolff pleaded guilty to two counts of cruelty to an animal, a Class A misdemeanor, which carries a maximum sentence of one year incarceration and up to a $5,000 fine.

Per Wolff’s plea agreement, two counts of intimidation and one count of obstruction of justice were dismissed. Wolff also will not be allowed to own or possess animals as a condition of his probation. 

Wolff was arrested in March 2017 after investigators found evidence that Wolff’s horses had been abused and neglected, including reports from neighbors that Wolff let his horses go hungry and did not treat their injuries.

“There was one instance where a horse had bones sticking through the back of the hind leg, and no treatment whatsoever was done,” Chief Investigator Dave Homer wrote in the probable cause affidavit.

Neighbors reported Wolff was rarely at the property and was not feeding or caring for the animals regularly.

Grant County Prosecutor Rodney Faulk said he “worked tirelessly” on the case as a deputy prosecutor to secure the impoundment order that allowed the state to seize the horses. “The most important thing was to get those animals out of there and into a safe, loving environment, and that occurred,” Faulk said.

The animals seized from Wolff’s property included two mules, two donkeys and five horses.

Faulk said he was “to blame” for not ensuring Wolff’s plea agreement included jail time.

“We should have insisted on jail time, but I stand by my deputy prosecutor’s decision,” Faulk said. “For what those horses went through, he should have done some jail time.”

The dropped intimidation and obstruction of justice charges stemmed from an incident on Dec. 26 when officials came to Wolff’s property to pick up a dead horse for a necropsy, or animal autopsy.

Wolff used a backhoe and began “continually banging the bucket down on the horse,” according to the probable cause affidavit.

“At one point he picked the horse up in the air, flipped the horse in mid-air, dropped the bucket on top of it, and left it there so it was difficult to move the horse. Mr. Wolff asked (Jerry) Foustnight if he could use a chain saw and cut the head off the horse. … Mr. Wolff told him he keeps the heads on a fence spear for the skulls to remember them,” the probable cause affidavit states, although investigators noted they did not see any skulls on fence spears at the property.

Homer wrote in his report that Wolff made threatening comments to Foustnight and Grant County Commissioner Ron Mowery.

Neighbors also experienced a pattern of intimidation, according to their statements to law enforcement.

Once, when a neighbor dropped off hay to feed the horses, Wolff doused the hay in gasoline and set it on fire, according to the probable cause affidavit.

“(Wolff) has a history of riding around his property, mowing his grass, armed with a weapon and actually discharging weapons and intimidating his neighbors. He has shot his horses purposely, according to the neighbors, as a way to get back at them for reporting him to the sheriff’s department,” Homer said.

Brenda Volmer, president of the Marion-Grant County Humane Society, said Wolff should have served time.

“To me it’s not acceptable. Multiple animals and the neighbors have gone through hell,” Volmer said.

Faulk said he was focusing on the fact that the horses were rescued.

“While jail time was probably appropriate, I’m very pleased that we got helpless animals out of a horrible situation,” Faulk said.

Volmer said the outcome of the case sends a message to animal abusers that they can get away with it.

“It’s not enough, and it just perpetuates the idea that it doesn’t matter what you do to him, he didn’t do any jail time. How does that stop the next guy? It does nothing to deter that guy from doing something in the future,” Volmer said.