Rebecca Sue Johnson of Maple Ridge Township faces felony charges for abandoning/cruelty to 25 or more animals, which is punishable by up to seven years in prison. She also faces a misdemeanor charge for running an unregistered animal shelter. She was released from jail after posting a $60,000 surety bond.
The investigation into the Michigan woman reportedly began in August 2020 when Michigan State Police, the Delta County Sheriff’s Office, and the Delta County Prosecutor’s Office searched her home. Officials ultimately seized 134 dogs, 11 miniature horses, and seven horses from her property. All of the dogs, many of which were pregnant, were taken to Delta County Animal Shelter. Shelter officials told the press that after all the births over the next several months, there are now 217 dogs. The horses were transported to a nearby farm for care, sources indicate.
The Delta County Prosecutor’s Office filed a civil forfeiture suit against her this week to seize all of her animals so that they could be adopted. The preliminary hearing Monday was heavily promoted on social media, and more than 200 people reportedly logged into the hearing, which was held over Zoom on account of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The accused purportedly voluntarily forfeited her rights to the animals to the shelter, which means they can now be made available for adoption. However, a spokesperson for Delta Animal Shelter said there are still several steps to go before the shelter can start the adoption process.
“All the animals will have to be spayed, neutered, completed with their vaccinations, heartworm tested, etc.” said Susan Gartland, director of Delta Animal Shelter. “So, there’s a lot of logistical planning in getting them ready for adoption.”
The dogs were allegedly covered in flies and had severe fly-strike wounds when they were taken from the defendant’s residence, according to the shelter. The defendant is scheduled to appear in court again on January 22 for a preliminary examination for the felony animal cruelty charge, records show.
Cases of civil forfeiture involving private property aren’t uncommon in Michigan. Civil asset forfeiture is a legal process that allows police and prosecutors to seize cash, vehicles, jewelry, etc. they believe is connected to a crime. Sometimes, like in this situation, the property owner faces felony charges, but that is often not the case.
One of the major criticisms of civil forfeiture is that it sometimes violates the due process rights of innocent property owners. In a recently published report by the Institute for Justice titled “Policing for Profit” that analyses every states’ civil forfeiture laws, Michigan received a D- score.
According to the report, Michigan has limited protections for the innocent and a large profit incentive for law enforcement agencies to conduct seizures because they get to keep 100 percent of the proceeds. If your lawful property has been seized by police or federal agents using civil forfeiture, then you should consult a civil forfeiture defense attorney.
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Has your property been seized by a law enforcement agency? Contact Brian Silber, P.A. to set up a free initial consultation and work with a nationwide federal civil asset forfeiture attorney.