Judge approves evidence from search in animal cruelty case

Centralia – A decision by a Lewis County District Court judge prevented the likely dismissal of charges for a woman accused of 20 counts of animal cruelty Thursday.

Judge R.W. Buzzard ruled that evidence from a Oct. 2 search of accused puppy mill operator Theresa Hahn’s rural Toledo property will be admissible when the case reaches a trial.

Hahn’s defense attorney Jerry Gray had made a motion to suppress evidence and testimony from the search of the home, which included a Lewis County humane officer and three detectives.

In a two-hour hearing, Gray and Lewis County Deputy Prosecutor Shane O’Rourke questioned witnesses and debated the legality of the search, which led to a warrant being issued. Gray argued that detectives failed to provide Hahn with so-called Ferrier warnings, meaning Hahn should have been notified of her right to end or limit the search at any time.

Buzzard ruled that the case did not reach the standard to require a Ferrier warning and that previous refusals to allow law enforcement on the property denoted her knowledge that she did not have to consent to the search.

“I am finding that Miss Hahn gave her consent, that it was voluntary,” Buzzard said at the conclusion of arguments.

On the stand, Lewis County Humane Officer Alishia Hornburg described the Oct. 2 encounter with Hahn at her property 10 miles northeast of Toledo on Rockridge Lane on Oct. 2.

She said she asked for sheriff’s office personnel to accompany her on a visit to the property. She testified that she had been focusing on Hahn since complaints of barking dogs and the overwhelming smell of urine and feces had been reported multiple times in early 2009.

Hornburg said that on approximately 10 occasions, she was not allowed to pass a gate at the entrance of the property. On one occasion, Hahn allowed her to look inside a detached building, but only after a week of notification.

“I thought maybe (Hahn) would take my visits more seriously if I had law enforcement with me,” Hornburg said.

Hornburg said that, following several conversations near the gate Oct. 2, Hahn provided her permission for Hornburg and a detective to enter the home, as long as no photographs were taken. The search lasted for less than an hour, but resulted in the issuance of a search warrant Oct. 7.

On that day, Lewis County Sheriff’s Office, code enforcement and animal control workers swarmed the property and seized more than 20 allegedly sick and malnourished dogs, mostly Pomeranians. The investigation located approximately 157 dogs on the property, but only the visibly ill were taken.

Gray argued that the initial search of the property that led to the seizure of dogs represented an unlawful entry on the property. He said detectives — who also questioned Hahn about a marijuana grow operation — were investigating two alleged crimes and should have notified Hahn of her right to end or limit a search.

“She had no idea what was going on at the time because she had no idea what her Ferrier rights were,” Gray said.

Neither of two Lewis County detectives who testified Thursday could recall anyone providing Ferrier warnings to Hahn, but in the end it didn’t matter. Judge Buzzard said that Hahn’s previous refusal to allow entry on the property on previous occasions exhibited her knowledge that she did not have to consent to the search.

Hahn took the stand at the conclusion of Thursday’s hearing, bursting into tears when asked how she felt about the search of the property. She claimed that she did not give investigators permission to enter her home, and that no one told her the visit was part of an investigation.