After years of fighting animal cruelty charges and being found guilty of one, a horse rescue operation in King William County has had its horses seized again.
The seizure comes amid an 18-count lawsuit in King William County Circuit Court, where the owners of of the rescue allege public officials and private citizens conducted two illegal searches on their properties during a horse seizure in Aylett in 2016 that resulted in injuries to several horses, as well as emotional distress to the owners themselves.
The latest seizure occurred on Jan. 24, when 33 horses were taken from the New Beginnings Horse Rescue and Cassy Newell-Reed and her husband’s property by Spotsylvania Animal Control Department, according to filings in King William County General District Court.
The origins of the seizure and location of the horses remain unclear as several state and local agencies have not returned requests for comment or returned the requests with minimal information.
The civil violation filed on behalf of King William County by Commonwealth’s Attorney Matthew Kite alleges the horses were abandoned, cruelly treated or neglected.
Kite said because there is pending litigation with Newell-Reed, his opinion is that lawyers should speak in the courtroom about cases, not in the media.
Spotsylvania County Sheriff’s Office First Sgt. Pittman said an investigation is underway and that he could not discuss specifics.
The seizure occurred as the owners of the horse rescue have taken King William County Sheriff Jeff Walton, several of his deputies, other horse farms and a veterinarian to court over the 2016 seizure.
In the suit, property owners Newell-Reed, and her husband in a separate lawsuit, seek at least $1.35 million plus interest for alleged damages by the defendants, including King William Sheriff Jeff Walton and deputies involved in the horse seizure.
Newell-Reed has been embroiled in a series of animal cruelty cases since June 2016, when King William Animal Control seized 42 horses from her New Beginnings Horse Rescue after horses were found to be malnourished and suffering, according to Tidewater Review archives and the lawsuit.
Newell-Reed, in a 2016 Tidewater Review article, defended her farm and its practices at the time and insisted she took proper care of the horses.
"I'm not a prize show barn," she said in 2016. "What you see is what you get. My grass may be grown, but my horses are taken care of. My time is spent with the horses in the barn and with the (horse) babies.”
Newell-Reed was charged with three counts of animal cruelty following the seizure. After initial court proceedings, the horses were returned to New Beginnings and the prosecutor, Kite, dropped the charges against Newell-Reed, according to Tidewater Review archives.
In 2017, she was back in court for two charges of animal cruelty. One charge was dismissed by a judge and she was found guilty of one count of animal cruelty by a jury, according to Tidewater Review archives.
One year later, she and her husband filed near-identical civil lawsuits for compensation and damages stemming from the 2016 horse seizure.
According to the suit, Newell-Reed and her husband allege they had their property illegally searched, damaged and trespassed upon, underwent mental distress and incurred sufficient costs due to the horse search and seizure.
Sheriff’s deputies searched Newell-Reeds properties on May 31, 2016, but a state veterinarian did not find the horses in emergency health circumstances.
Sheriff’s deputies then searched and seized horses from the same properties on June 6, 2016. Three horse farms, a veterinarian and a private citizen assisted and housed the animals, according to court documents.
In the affidavit for the June search, Newell-Reed and her defense believe that deputy Brandy Coligan did not sign it under oath and the signature diverges from her norm, the filings said.
Newell-Reed said in the filings that the horses’ conditions were relative to the fact that she accepts mistreated animals in the first place in an attempt to nurse them back to health.
After the horses were returned to New Beginnings, Newell-Reed said she incurred significant costs due to the inadequate care of the horses at the horse farms they were transferred to after the seizure, the filings said.
All of the defendants who responded to Newell-Reed’s claims have disputed them, including the sheriff, sheriff’s deputies, horse farms and a veterinarian, except for one “John Doe” and Kayleigh Hirsch, a former manager of Carlton Farms in James City County.
The sheriff and the deputies argue they’re legally protected and do not need to participate in the proceedings because they had reasonable suspicion that crimes were being committed at the horse rescue. Later, those suspicions were confirmed when a jury convicted Newell-Reed of animal cruelty.
All the defendants who have filed documents in the case have sought to indemnify themselves from Newell-Reed’s lawsuit.
Review archives were used in this report.
The next hearing on the civil complaint and the petition to seize the horses will be at 9 a.m. Thursday, according to the filings. If the court finds Newell-Reed or her husband abandoned or neglected the horses, the court could give ownership to King William County. There will be a hearing on the separate lawsuit at 9 a.m. June 6.
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