Animal control aide contradicts farmers' testimony

March 01, 1994|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Sun Staff Writer

During his turn on the witness stand yesterday, animal control officer David R. Stair contradicted much of the previously heard testimony in the $581,600 slander and libel lawsuit brought by two Marston farmers against the Humane Society of Carroll County.

The farmers -- August Frederick "Fred" Schisler and his brother, Carroll Lynn Schisler -- also named Mr. Stair and Humane Society Director Carolyn "Nicky" Ratliff, as defendants in their civil suit in Carroll Circuit Court.

The suit claims Mr. Stair and Ms. Ratliff made statements to the media and released misleading videotapes to television stations after an April 11, 1990, raid in an investigation of animal cruelty charges.

Those public statements ruined their reputations and caused them to lose business, the Schisler brothers claim. They are seeking $120,000 in damages from Ms. Ratliff, $171,600 from Mr. Stair and $290,000 from the Humane Society.

The Schislers also claim that Mr. Stair maliciously destroyed several animals on the farm. Mr. Stair testified yesterday that the animals -- a heifer, a steer and a pig -- were euthanized on the advice of Dr. Arthur Peck, a retired Westminster veterinarian who specialized in treating livestock.

Says animals were ill

Mr. Stair said he heard Dr. Peck explain to Fred Schisler that the pig had bloody diarrhea and the heifer had an advanced stage of selenium poisoning.

Mr. Stair testified that Dr. Peck said, "There was no way [the steer] would survive and that it was inhumane to keep it alive."

The steer belonged to Carroll Schisler's son, Leonard "Pee Wee" Schisler. Family members have testified that the boy, now 14, was home from school that day with an earache and watched the death of his pet in tears.

But Mr. Stair said yesterday that he did not see the child that day.

"At no time did I see a youngster near the animal," said Mr. Stair, who fired the shot that killed it.

The Schisler brothers have testified that Mr. Stair ordered their arrest and did not ensure that the animals would be tended in their absence.

But Mr. Stair said yesterday that he has no authority to order anyone's arrest. He also said that Carroll "Hot Shot" Schisler Jr., now 21, and Mark Keeney, a family friend who is now 25, were feeding the animals when Fred Schisler was taken to the Carroll County Detention Center.

"I asked Fred if he wanted any additional time to feed the livestock, and he said it was all right and being taken care of," Mr. Stair said.

Ms. Ratliff also testified yesterday about her motivation in obtaining a search warrant to enter the Schislers' property the day of the raid.

Informant had photos

She said an informant, whose name she now cannot remember, went to the Humane Society with concerns about and photographs of the Schisler farm. After checking the informant's background, the society agreed to proceed with an investigation, she said.

Both the informant and Robert Smith, an investigator for the Maryland Department of Agriculture's now-defunct meat and poultry inspection department, told Ms. Ratliff that if she did not have a warrant, the Schislers would ask her to leave the property immediately.

Mr. Smith suspected the family was running an illegal slaughterhouse operation, Ms. Ratliff said.

Ms. Ratliff said the investigation prompted by the informant's complaint was conducted by Mr. Stair and the Humane Society staff.

"I don't do any initial investigations," Ms. Ratliff said. "I have the utmost confidence in my staff."

Received complaints

The Humane Society also had received complaints about an odor of decaying animals in early 1990 and had turned that case over to the Health Department, Ms. Ratliff said. The Schislers have testified that they used carcasses to discourage buzzards from attacking newborn animals on the farm.

Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr. also heard testimony yesterday from Dr. Roger Olson, assistant state veterinarian at the Department of Agriculture.

He had been expected to testify that Ms. Ratliff had sought revocation of the Schislers' livestock dealers' license at a meeting in June 1990.

But Dr. Olson testified that he was late for the meeting and couldn't remember who suggested the license revocation.

That testimony was stricken from the court record at the request of defense attorneys.

Judge Burns allowed the rest of Dr. Olson's testimony, in which he said the Schislers' reputation was "mixed" and that dead animal carcasses are not an effective method of controlling buzzards.

Attorneys said the trial, which began Wednesday, should conclude tomorrow.

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