Two state agencies dropped the ball when it came to prosecuting a southern Colorado wild horse buyer who admitted to breaking state laws while shipping hundreds of federally protected wild horses.
The buyer, Tom Davis of La Jara, has not been charged nor investigated. The two state agencies involved blame each other, saying there is “confusion” and “a disconnect” about who should head an investigation.
A ProPublica report published in The Gazette in September detailed how Davis, a proponent of horse slaughter, purchased truckload after truckload of wild horses from the Bureau of Land Management. Davis said he then shipped the horses to what he called “good homes” all over the country. None of the horses have been accounted for. Wild horse advocates believe they illegally went to slaughter. Davis denies this.
Colorado law requires a state brand inspection when livestock is sold or shipped more than 75 miles. Brand records show Davis received more than 1,700 horses from the BLM, but shipped only 765. None of the horses are still in his possession, meaning almost 1,000 were shipped or sold without an inspection.
Davis admitted as much to ProPublica, saying he did not want brand inspectors to know where the horses were going. When the reporter suggested that was illegal, Davis replied, “Since when is anything in this country done legal?”
Each violation of the brand law is misdemeanor punishable by up to 18 months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
After the report was published, the Department of Interior and the Colorado brand inspection office said they would investigate Davis.
“The brand laws are some of the oldest laws in the state,” Brand Commissioner Chris Whitney said last fall. “They are there to prevent livestock theft and we take them very seriously.”
He spoke to Davis in October and said Davis admitted to violating brand laws.
Whitney then called the 12th Judicial District Attorney, David Mahonee, in November to brief him on the case. He sent the D.A. a formal letter saying Davis had admitted to violating the law and “an investigation is warranted” but the brand inspection office was not equipped to do it.
Since then, no one has launched an investigation. The Gazette contacted officials this week about the matter.
Whitney said he was surprised to hear the case had been dropped because in November, Whitney said, Mahonee told him he would turn the matter over to the local Sheriff’s office.
Mahonee said the brand commissioner misunderstood. He said he told the commissioner it is not the D.A.’s job to initiate investigations, and that Whitney would have to turn the matter over to a law enforcement agency to conduct an investigation.
“That’s the disconnect,” said Mahonee. “There is no evidence, just a letter saying there is something going on.”
The Department of Interior investigation is ongoing and a spokesman declined to provide details.
The brand commissioner vowed Thursday to rectify the oversight, saying if the D.A. would not get the sheriff to investigate, he would.
“Somewhere there is confusion,” Whitney said. “But clearly an investigation needs to be done.”
Contact Dave Philipps