by Kurtis Workman
Press Staff Writer
Power County’s livestock-at-large is still causing discussion more than a week after courtroom comments by Power County Prosecutor Ryan Petersen caused heated discussion between Petersen and Power County Sheriff Jim Jeffries.
The conversation has now turned to how to change what Petersen called an “un-enforceable” ordinance.
“The way the ordinance is currently written, we have to be able to prove not only did the cows get out, but also the cows were let out in a flagrant, willfully indifferent manner that showed disregard. We will never be able to prove that,” said Petersen.
Conversations about changing the ordinance began in earnest after local cattle owner Lamar Issak received two citations for having animals loose.
Petersen said one of the major obstacles to prosecuting a citation for livestock-at-large is animals act on their own will. Providing a fence for cows to break out of could force livestock owners to face prosecution, he said.
“The animals are acting on their own. It is the act of fencing animals that creates the problem. We don’t want to criminalize fencing animals so there is no way to prove guilt,” said Petersen.
During his opening remarks Petersen addressed the specifics of why he dismissed both citations against Issak. Among his arguments supporting his request to drop the charges, Petersen pointed out that he was not provided proof that Issak had received proper notice of violations.
“I do not know if Mr. Issak had been give written warning. I have not seen that written warning so I do not know,” said Petersen.
“This was not set for a hearing. This was on the agenda for us to discuss the next steps if rewriting an ordinance, but we will hear your comments at this time because you have taken the time and interest to come today,” commission chairman Ron Funk told the crowd.
Over 10 people showed up at the commission meeting on Monday, April 28, to talk about the ordinance. The large attendance caused some confusion for the Power County Commissioners.
Issak addressed the commissioners saying there are many reasons the current livestock-at-large ordinance must be changed.
“I have property on both sides of the road near Register Rock. One side of the road is under herd law and the other side is open range. How do you know if the cows are leaving a fenced area or coming from a fence-free area? I have several different types of people that come through my property; sportsmen, wind tower people. I can’t babysit all of those groups. What would you have me do? Lock off all access through my property? You have multiple problems that need to be addressed,” said Issak.
Don Johnson addressed the commission next asking them to not leave county residents without protection.
“I am here today to represent people who need protection from loose animals. This is a public safety issue. We need to make sure the residents of this county are not in danger of crashing into animals-at-large. Everything I have seen here today is a ‘straw-man’ argument meant to make it look like this ordinance is not needed, but I am here to say that it is necessary,” said Johnson.
Johnson then went on to address Petersen’s comments about not having proof of notification.
“I expect the prosecutor to seek proof of charges made by the police. I expect the sheriff to have proof of the charges they are claiming. I further expect the prosecutor to ask for that proof,” said Johnson.
Launa Snow said context is important to keep in mind.
“This ordinance is in place to protect against the normal way people act. You need to keep in mind that normal people call their neighbors and normal neighbors come get their animals. They don’t like their animals to be out. You need to remember if the police are being called it has become a real and serious problem,” said Snow.
Power County Highway District Supervisor Don Haskin said he recognized the need for better language to make the law more enforceable, but cautioned the commission to not lower the penalty too far.
“I caution you against going down the road to an infraction. We have had the same issue with watering the roads in the county. When we had a misdemeanor on the books it was much easier to gain compliance from repeat offenders. Once it was lowered to an infraction there were no teeth to the law. Reducing this to an infraction is the first step down the road to no enforcement at all,” said Haskin.
Petersen recommended to the commission that the issue be set for further consideration in three to six months so he could write an ordinance that would remove the misdemeanor level charge and replace it with a progressive infraction statute.
“I would propose an infraction in which the fine becomes larger with each subsequent violation,” said Petersen.
The commission told the audience they would take the comments under advisement and address the issue at a future meeting.