Attorneys for the three Pets in Need employees facing trial in the deaths of seven puppies last year will ask a Santa Clara County Superior Court judge next week to allow them to enter a diversion program instead. facing trial and a possible jail sentence, according to court documents.
The diversion program, which is typically used for people with alleged low-level offenses and some misdemeanors, would allow the three defendants, shelter operations manager Patricia Santana Valencia, former behavior manager Margaret Evans and former human resources manager Ingrid Hartmann performing community service. or participate in other court-ordered activities. Once they complete the terms of the diversion program, their records will be deleted.
But the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office opposes the diversion proposal “because of the devastating nature of the crime, as well as their profession of (being) animal caretakers,” prosecutors wrote in an opposition brief. .
Valencia, Evans and Hartmann are charged with a misdemeanor count of failing to provide proper care and attention to an animal and inhumane transportation of an animal. His next court appearance is scheduled for August 9. The three transported the 12-week-old pups and 21 other Central Valley animals in a van at 90 degrees in August 2021. Three necropsy reports, though inconclusive, found the pups likely died of heat stroke or suffocation.
Prosecutors allege the employees didn’t give the puppies and other dogs enough water and packed too many dogs into the van, which allegedly didn’t have adequate air conditioning in the back where the animals were kept in cages.
The defendants say they followed protocol, claiming they checked on the puppies during a stop in Los Banos, a city in Merced County, before heading to the Palo Alto facility. The puppies were healthy at the time, they said.
State law gives judges the discretion to grant pretrial diversion if defendants meet “fit and proper” standards. The law, in part, characterizes suitable defendants as those who are “minimally involved in crime and maximally motivated to reform.”
If they are granted the diversion and have complied with all the terms of the court order, the charges will be dismissed and the women will not have to report that they were ever arrested. However, the information will remain in the California Department of Justice system, which may be released if a law enforcement official requests the information. Women would also have to disclose their arrest if they are looking for jobs as police officers, according to the law.
The three women’s attorneys pointed to their clean records and, for Valencia and Evans, years of unblemished work with animals. Valencia has 20 years of experience and has rescued thousands of animals without a similar incident, according to the diversion program’s court petition.
“It is true that Pets in Need had limited guidelines for transporting animals prior to the incident. The new guidelines are now being completed with the assistance of a licensed veterinarian and other animal experts,” the defense attorneys wrote. Employees followed the limited Pets in Need guidelines.
The dogs were given a limited amount of water to keep the young animals from getting seasick, the attorneys said. Some of the dogs had already vomited before being transported by Pets in Need when a Central Valley shelter volunteer drove them in an air-conditioned vehicle to meet with Pets in Need staff. It is likely that the dogs were already sick at the time of collection, but the volunteer had not provided any additional information about the animals that would have led to an inspection by a veterinarian before they were taken away by Pets in Need staff the lawyers said.
But prosecutors noted that video evidence showed the puppies were happy to play outside in a shaded area at the Chowchilla volunteer’s home. Evans and Valencia’s long professional experience makes the pups’ deaths even more egregious and therefore does not meet diversion program standards, prosecutors said.
“The defendants’ association with Pets in Need should have made them even more vigilant regarding the welfare of the seven puppies. Instead, this conduct was even worse than what the law tolerates for ordinary, knowledgeable people who understand animal care. It is functionally the same as leaving a dog alone in a hot car,” prosecutors wrote.
Valid criteria for not offering diversion include if there was violent conduct that poses a serious danger to society. While that standard generally relates to physical violence, “the inhumane transportation of animals is inherently linked to bodily harm. Their conduct presents a serious risk to the safety of the animals,” prosecutors wrote in their opposition brief.
Hartmann, who was recently hired to be the human resources manager, claimed in her diversion program petition that she was only present as a “chaperone,” which Pets in Need requires of all new hires.
Prosecutors wrote that Hartmann’s characterization of his role went beyond a mere stroll.
“She chose to participate, taking the pups out of spaced boxes into the harsh conditions of the van. She knew there was no drinking water,” prosecutors wrote.
The defendants have not admitted any responsibility for the deaths of the puppies. Instead, they chose to blame the Central Valley shelter volunteer and the inadequacy of Pets in Need protocols, reasons why they do not meet judicial diversion standards, prosecutors said.
While they strongly opposed diversion for the defendants, prosecutors also asked the judge to consider an alternative request. If the court is inclined to grant a deviation, the prosecution requested one-year terms with no new violations of the law, 160 hours of service through the Alternative Sentencing Program, and documentation showing that Pets in Need has changed its practices and procedures in to the extent that if the defendants continue to work as animal caretakers, the court can be sure that this type of tragedy will be prevented in the future.
Since the incident, Evans has left Pets in Need and works two jobs, including running a mattress store in Utah. She has not been able to find a job in her field, the attorneys said. Hartmann has also left Pets in Need. Valencia still works at the animal shelter as the shelter’s operations manager, according to court documents and the nonprofit.