DVMs pulled into civil suits in horse-abuse case

Mar 01, 2009

Columbia, S.C. — Veterinarians and animal-welfare groups are among those named in civil lawsuits filed by two members of a South Carolina family who seek more than $300 million in damages, fees and restitution for what they claim are unjustified animal-cruelty charges brought against them.

Terry Trexler, a former lawyer, and his mother, Hazelene Trexler, are representing themselves in the civil actions filed in South Carolina federal and state courts against local prosecutors, their own attorneys, veterinarians and the Richland County Humane Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (HSPCA).

The civil suits stem from multiple counts of felony maltreatment of animals filed in 2008 against Terry and Hazelene Trexler, after HSPCA investigators removed 45 horses from three parcels of Trexler land, claiming that the animals were malnourished and underweight and that no hay was found on the premises. Trexler's brother, James Trexler, also faces animal-cruelty charges, but is not a plaintiff in the civil suits.

The civil suits allege that prosecutors maliciously conspired to bring charges they knew lacked probable cause and were based on distortions.

The Trexlers accuse the HSPCA of unlawfully seizing the animals, which were placed in the care of Michael Privett, DVM, and have been kept for nearly a year at foster homes and on a 15-acre site owned by Equicare Veterinary Services.

The suits claim that Privett and an associate, Lari Stokes, DVM, are guilty of abuse because 27 horses on that site are in overcrowded conditions.

The HSPCA says it has spent $85,000 so far caring for the horses.

The suits also name Dr. Melinda D. Merck, a forensics veterinarian with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Atlanta, who said that tests she performed on remains of horses found on Trexler lands indicate the animals likely starved. Trexler says it can't be proven the remains came from his family's horses because horses were on the land for two centuries before his family owned it.

The charges of malnourishment came during last year's extreme heat and drought conditions in the Southeast, when hay was in short supply, but the horses were being fed grain that was parceled out to them and were regularly watered, Trexler has said.