Sentence includes article
Posted: Tuesday, January 24, 2012 8:36 pm
By: By The Associated Press
The Messenger 01.24.12
By BILL POOVEY
CHATTANOOGA (AP) — A federal judge Monday ordered a Tennessee man who pleaded guilty in a rare federal horse soring case to write a newspaper article about the illegal practices that cause the animals pain to give them animated gaits at horse shows.
Horse soring involves placing bolts on an animal’s hooves or using painful irritants that one official compared to forcing a person to walk with a rock in their shoe.
U.S. District Judge Harry S. Mattice Jr. sentenced Paul Blackburn of Shelbyville to one year of probation and ordered him as a community service penalty to write the horse soring article to be published in his local newspaper. Blackburn, 36, must also pay a $1,000 penalty.
Blackburn pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of conspiring to violate the federal Horse Protection Act. Three co-defendants are to be sentenced Feb. 27.
“I know what I done was wrong. I am very sorry for it,” Blackburn told the judge.
Blackburn’s attorney, David Clarke of Murfreesboro, told the judge that Blackburn has six children and his family would suffer if he was sent to prison. The plea deal with prosecutors could have resulted in a prison sentence of as long as six months.
Mattice said during sentencing that he had not been familiar with horse soring and Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Neff said before getting the case he had “never even heard of” it.
Lewisburg residents Bar-ney Davis, 39, and Jeffery Bradford, 34, and 26-year-old Christen Altman of Shelbyville have also changed their pleas to guilty in agreements with prosecutors.
A statement from U.S. Attorney Bill Killian said the case, along with the government’s 2011 case in Middle Tennessee against Chris Zahnd, 45, of Trinity, Ala., who was sentenced in November to two years of probation, are the first criminal prosecutions of Horse Protection Act violations nationally in about 20 years.
Records say Blackburn was part of a horse boarding and training operation that involved the cruelty violations. The a region is home to equestrian competitions and organizations such as the National Spotted Saddle Horse Association and the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ and Exhibitors’ Association.
Blackburn declined comment after the sentencing other than saying he was “just at the wrong place at the wrong time.” His attorney said he was pleased with the outcome. Before the plea deal, Blackburn faced a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
Records show that gaited horse trainer Davis employed the others at Hidden Creek Farms in Lewisburg, which is also known as Monopoly Farm. He also pleaded guilty to a conspiracy to obstruct justice charge, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
The case stemmed from a spotted saddle horse show in 2010 where investigators discovered falsified paperwork and an inspector discovered a “bolt device screwed against the sole” of a horse’s hoof. Video evidence helped prosecutors, records show.
“We have a stewardship obligation to the animals,” Neff said.
After Davis was first arrested and released on bond, a video showed him building a block to affect a horse’s gait and being present when a plate and bolt were inserted in a horse’s foot area. He surrendered and has since been in custody. Neff previously said the obstruction of justice charge stemmed from Davis trying to interfere with possible witnesses against him.
A superseding indictment included charges of falsifying entry forms and other related paperwork. Prosecutors said Davis and Altman collected payments from out-of-state clients based on false representations the animals would be legally trained. Altman’s attorney, Jerry Summers of Chattanooga, previously said about 30 horse owners each paid $400 a month to have Davis keep and train their animals.
In the case against Zahnd, a November statement from the U.S. attorney’s office in Nashville said the Horse Protection Act also prohibits using nerve cords, which are plastic zip ties that are “often applied around a horse’s upper gum” to distract it from any pain due to soreness when being checked by an inspector. Zahnd owned and operated Swingin’ Gate Stables in Trinity, Ala., and trained, boarded, and showed Tennessee Walking Horses. The statement said that at a July 2009 show, a horse trained and stabled by Zahnd was discovered to be wearing a nerve cord in its mouth. At a plea hearing, Zahnd said he was guilty of soring.
Both cases were investigated by agents with the US Department of Agriculture office of inspector general.