Defense: Search warrant invalid in Lawrence Co. Animal Shelter abuse case

Defense: Search warrant invalid in Lawrence Co. Animal Shelter abuse case

LAWRENCE COUNTY, AL (WAFF) - Attorneys for the former Lawrence County animal control director, who faces 17 misdemeanor animal cruelty counts, are making a legal play to have the bulk of the state's evidence tossed out.

Attorney Tony Hughes argued it took too long for Moulton police investigators to apply for the search warrant that initiated a four-day investigation on Bobbie Taylor's property. Hughes cited legal precedent to contend probable cause needed for the warrant was not sufficient because of the length of time between witnessing the alleged criminal activity and applying for the warrant. Hughes said prior court decisions show the window to be 72 hours.

Taylor filed a motion asking the judge to suppress the search warrant. If the judge gr ants the motion, all evidence gained against her would be thrown out.

Damon Morgan, who was a Moulton police captain at the time, testified that he and Chief Lyndon McWhorter visited her at her property on June 25, 2015. Her home sat next to several enclosures where animals were kept. The visit was based on a complaint filed by Taylor's former volunteer, Caleb Scott, alleging animal cruelty, neglect and abuse.

Taylor agreed to allow Morgan to observe the areas where the animals were. Morgan testified that he observed overcrowding and what appeared to be a lack of food, water and medical treatment.

Morgan contacted the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which sent an investigator. Taylor would not allow them to tour the enclosures.

Moulton police, city officials and Lawrence County commissioners met to discuss the situation on June 29. The Moulton Police Department applied for a search warrant that night from District Judge Angela Terry, who gr anted it. The warrant was executed that night. Led by the ASPCA, Taylor's property became a combination of a crime scene and rescue operation for four days.

Part of search warrant application included information that an ASPCA investigator had previously been to the shelter in early April. Morgan testified that the main basis for probable cause is what he witnessed, not on ASPCA information from a past visit.

The defense argued that information given to the judge was stale because it was applied for more than 72 hours after Morgan said he made firsthand observations, making it invalid.

Lawrence County District Attorney's Office prosecutors countered that 72 hours is a general rule of thumb but not legally binding. The prosecution contends that an ongoing alleged animal cruelty on such a large scale can be assumed to be continuing, thus still a situation requiring expedient action.

Judge Mark Craig said he will review the affidavit application and render a decision later. Craig added that he does not believe the 72-hour guideline is hard and fast, and going over that timeframe doesn't indicate illegal search and seizure.

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