Johnson City Press: Virginia judge decides case involving local animal shelter

Virginia judge decides case involving local animal shelter

John Thompson • Apr 23, 2018 at 10:27 PM

ELIZABETHTON — A civil court case tried in Virginia last Thursday attracted local attention because employees of the Elizabethton/Carter County Animal Shelter and Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey were involved in giving testimony on opposing sides of the argument.

Circuit Court Judge Chadwick S. Dotson heard more than six hours of testimony in a lawsuit between two women contesting ownership of two dogs. This was the second time the dispute had been in court. It had been appealed from Wise County District Court.

After the long day of testimony, Dotson took an extra day to reach his decision, and on Friday afternoon, he issued his ruling in favor of the defendant, Sandy Blanton, a Virginia woman who currently had possession of two Shih-tzu dogs.

The dogs had previously belonged to a Carter County woman, Kimberly Buckles. The dogs were picked up by animal control officer Freddie Turner and taken to the animal shelter. From there, the two dogs would eventually be sent to Virginia, where Blanton would find and adopt them.

Buckles had originally filed suit in Wise County District Court to regain possession of the two dogs. At the District Court trial Feb. 22, Humphrey had testified that the animals’ seizure was illegal and that trafficking had been going on at the shelter. The lower court ruled in favor of Buckles and ordered Blanton to return the dogs to her. Blanton appealed the case to Circuit Court, leading to Thursday’s trial.

In his decision on Friday, Dotson said “(W)hile the circumstances under which the (animal control) officer obtained the canines were alleged to be fraudulent, the evidence presented at trial indicates, to the satisfaction of this court, that the animal shelter lawfully obtained title to the plaintiff’s canines.”

Dotson said both Blanton and Buckles were “two innocent parties” and he said his decision “was not based on any claims of abuse or neglect.” He said there was no evidence Buckles mistreated the dogs in any way.

On Monday, Mike Barnett, chairman of the Elizabethton/Carter County Animal Shelter Advisory Board, said he was delighted with the judge’s decision, but sympathized with Buckles over losing the dogs she fought for.

Barnett said allegations of wrongdoing at the animal shelter have now been investigated by a court and by an investigator with the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office. In neither case were the allegations found to be true.

The Animal Shelter has been at the center of controversy for two years and has led to heated discussions in both the Carter County Commission and the Elizabethan City Council.

With the Wise County case decided, Barnett said he hoped “to put all this behind us.” He said the shelter is being operated efficiently and humanely.

Humphrey said that while the Wise County case has been decided, not all the evidence had been heard. He said Blanton had the benefit of an attorney, but Buckles did not have an attorney to present her case. Humphrey said the lack of an attorney did have a major impact because Buckles was not able to bring into the trial the evidence with which she had won the District Court trial.

Humphrey has been criticized by his opponents in the upcoming Republican primary for his participation in the civil trial but the mayor said he is happy he helped Buckles, even though she eventually lost the case.

“I am always here for the citizens of Carter County when they need me,” Humphrey said. “When Mrs. Buckles contacted me, I was happy to help her and I would be glad to do it for any citizen who needed my help.”

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