Animal abuse charges dropped against Gilbert boarding facility

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By Brad Denny By Brad Denny
By Brad Denny By Brad Denny
By Brad Denny By Brad Denny
By Brad Denny By Brad Denny
By Brad Denny By Brad Denny

PHOENIX -- All animal cruelty charges have been dropped against the four defendants from the Green Acre boarding facility, where 21 dogs died last June.

Prosecutors are moving to dismiss without prejudice the animal cruelty counts, but are leaving one fraud count against kennel owners Jesse and Maleisa Hughes, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery announced on Monday.

On June 21, 2014, police discovered more than 20 dead or severely injured dogs at Green Acre Dog Boarding in Gilbert. At the time, the Hughes family said the animals died of heat exhaustion after one dog chewed through the air conditioner's power cord, but Maricopa County Sheriff's investigators reportedly found no evidence that a chewed-up wire was to blame.

However, questions about the air conditioner led to the dropped charges on Monday.

“After thoroughly reviewing the records and fairly considering the points raised in recent Defense motions, the theory of the case as initially presented to the Grand Jury did not take into account the possibility that there were issues with an air conditioning unit,” said Montgomery. “This could impact a Grand Jury’s charging decision and how we might present a case to a trial jury." 

Following an investigation, Jesse and Maleisa Hughes were charged with 22 felony counts and seven misdemeanor counts of cruelty to animals, as well as and one felony count of fraudulent schemes and artifices. Austin and Logan Flake were each charged with 21 felony counts and seven misdemeanor counts of cruelty to animals.  

All four of the defendants have pled not guilty to the charges. 

While the charges were dropped, Montgomery left open the possibility that new charges could be filed in the future.

“The State will confer with investigators and experts to ensure any open questions about the events that occurred at the Green Acre facility are fully answered before making a decision on re-charging allegations of animal cruelty,” Montgomery said.  “Our motion to dismiss the charges without prejudice reflects our ethical and professional duty as prosecutors to review information presented to us by the defense and to assess what impact, if any, it has on our case.”

The following is a statement from the Hughes' attorney, Robert P. Jarvis:

"We are very pleased with Mr. Montgomery’s decision to dismiss the animal cruelty charges. His decision underscores the importance of a thorough and objective investigation and continual review of the case. The Hughes remain sorrowful that the tragic and freak accident even occurred. Jesse Todd and Maleisa Hughes convey their sympathy to the other dog owners for their loss. They mourn the loss of their own family dog along with the others.

The Hughes have always had the best interests of the boarded dogs in mind. All their actions have been to provide a good boarding experience for dogs. For over 18 months, they experienced growing success because of their care and concern for the boarded dogs.

No one could have anticipated the loss of the air conditioning that led to the tragic and freak accident. We acknowledge Mr. Montgomery’s resolve to follow his ethical duty to dismiss the charges after further review. There never was probable cause supporting the charges. The false testimony by the Sheriff’s detective to the grand jury has caused a great travesty.

We understand the focus has previously been on the animal cruelty charges. Now that the focus is on the fraud charge, we expect a dismissal as well as the misrepresentations provided to the state by the Sheriff’s office come to light. Given the actions by the Sheriff’s office, the objectivity of the Sheriff Office’s investigation is at least questionable as is the veracity of the selective information submitted to the County Attorney’s Office. The Hughes adamantly declare their innocence and will continue to aggressively defend their case. As the truth continues to emerge, the Hughes will ultimately be vindicated."