No-show in horse cruelty case

By: By Chris Berendt -

By Chris Berendt

A Sampson County case involving the seizure of dozens of neglected horses and other animals from deplorable conditions has been in the courts for more than a year — and now includes an order for arrest for the main suspect.

Tammie Michelle Montiel, 41, of Cameron, stands charged with 18 counts of animal cruelty. While a civil lawsuit brought against Montiel for the care of the horses last year resulted in the official forfeiture of the animals in September 2014 — the animals were fostered and subsequently adopted out — the criminal case has remained pending.

Montiel was slated to appear in Sampson County District Court for a trial on July 14 but was reportedly a no-show.

“She failed to appear and an order for her arrest was issued,” said Animal Control Sgt. Jessica Kittrell said this week. “There is an active search for her to serve the order for arrest.”

Leading up to the recent court date, the sergeant said she believed that following numerous delays and continuances, the time had finally come where there would be some sort of disposition on the case one way or the other. That didn’t happen, but it wasn’t because a continuance was granted, according to Kittrell, who has vowed along with other sheriff’s officials to see the case to its conclusion.

The charges against Montiel stem from a month-long investigation into potential animal cruelty and led to the removal of the malnourished animals from her rented Bob Rupert Lane property in northern Sampson, near Dunn, in mid-June and early July 2014.

Montiel voluntarily surrendered 14 horses in mid-June following an initial probe. Weeks later, on July 1, 37 more horses, nine ducks, five chickens and nine guineas were seized from the Bob Rupert Lane property and transported to the Sampson Livestock Facility on U.S. 421 South.

Due to the large number of animals involved, and the cost to feed and care for them, Sampson County Sheriff’s authorities also pursued a civil lawsuit against Montiel. In a civil hearing in late August 2014, District Court Judge Sarah Seaton levied a $15,000 bond, the amount to be paid by Montiel or have the horses forfeited to the county.

Sampson law enforcement, citizens and numerous donors ensured that the horses received proper care following their rescue. And when the bond went unpaid, many of those who had taken in the horses as fosters throughout the community in those initial weeks, were able to be adopted out.

When animal rescue league and local law enforcement officials first converged on the Bob Rupert Lane property, located on just 5 acres at the county’s northern tip, they called the poor condition of the horses heinous and some of the most deplorable they had witnessed.

The Southeast Coast Region of the U.S. Equine Rescue League (USERL), a national, non-profit equine rescue organization, noted in its June 13, 2014, assessment of the operation that ponies, miniature horses, yearlings and elderly horses were co-mingled in several enclosures in a barn at the residence near Plain View. Most of the horses were suffering from malnutrition, and many had open wounds, serious infections and skin issues, group officials said.

Five horses were immediately seized at that point. USERL Chapter director Debbie Walsh Bartholomew called it “disgusting” and “one of the worst cases we’ve seen in North Carolina.”

Montiel, who sheriff’s officials say has a history of similar animal neglect and cruelty accusations against her but no convictions, has reportedly been in possession of more horses since last summer’s new charges.

A motion was filed last month at Kittrell’s request to prohibit Montiel from having horses. A judge granted the motion.

Now, following her failure to appear in court, the search for Montiel is ongoing.

“Once she is taken into custody she will be held unless bonded out,” Kittrell noted, “and a new court date will be set.”

Reach staff writer Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.

Reach staff writer Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.