LAKE CENTRAL — Kali Williams, a Phoenix-area reptile enthusiast, called the Arizona County Sheriff’s Office, pleading with deputies to conduct an animal welfare check at a property in a rural area known as Golden Valley.
Williams said she had no idea her April 3 appeal would bolster investigations 2,000 miles away in northern Michigan, where in the same month local officials found hundreds of dead animals in a chest freezer.
She just knew that her four snakes – Jigsaw, Lucie, Sneck and Big Mama – were missing.
“I’ve become a super detective,” Williams said of her efforts to find out what happened to her pets after she said she lent them to a Golden Valley man as part of a breeding agreement.
Williams said she is still waiting for answers, and records show her amateur sleuths helped spark a state-to-state investigation in which officials in the region weigh in on the difficulties of investigating and prosecuting cases of animal abuse.
For example, procedures may differ from state to state from the first call to law enforcement. Records received from Arizona in response to a Freedom of Information Act request show that Williams called weeks before and was told by officials that the missing snakes sounded like a contract dispute.
Jaime Bemiss, a Grand Traverse County animal control supervisor, said such a request called by a resident here could also be classified as a civil dispute, but would result in an in-person response.
“If they asked for a welfare check, we would be out,” Bemiss said. “As far as what they had agreed to, that’s where the civil case would be. But if she had some type of thought process that animals might be in danger, you want to check that part out.
In Arizona, Williams called the sheriff’s office. In Grand Traverse County, animal control operates within the health department, not the sheriff’s office, which Bemiss says can leave animal control officers without access to vital information.
Local animal control officers don’t have access to LEIN — the FBI’s criminal history and active warrant database — like police officers and sheriff’s deputies do, she said.
“We go to almost all the same houses as PD (police department), but we go blind,” Bemis said.
This arrangement is different from state to state and county to county. Bemiss said she works closely with the sheriff’s office, regularly checks in diligently and can request a deputy to accompany her on calls.
But Bemiss can’t handle criminal history or search for active warrants, and she said it would help if animal control had access to that data.
“Dispatch might tell us to pull out, but they can’t tell us why,” she said. “It tells us something is wrong, but we don’t know what it is.”
It’s the second piece of advice from Williams, who in April helped officials first in Arizona and then Michigan make a series of grim, headline-grabbing discoveries – freezers containing hundreds of dead animals inside, found at residential properties in Golden Valley and Central Lake, which records show were rented by the same couple.
Bemiss said a complaint at the same time was filed by a woman whose dog died after being treated at a Grand Traverse County pet salon, and officials were eventually able to link the two investigations.
“We learned of the situation we had, our prosecutor filed charges and then County Antrim investigated the addresses given to us for their county,” Bemiss said. “Everything went smoothly after that.”
Michael Patrick Turland, 43, and Brooklynn Beck, 28, each face multiple animal cruelty charges; Turland in Mohave County Superior Court in Arizona and Beck in Michigan’s 86th District Court on charges filed in Antrim and Grand Traverse counties.
Arizona records show law enforcement found dogs, rabbits, snakes, a Savannah Monitor lizard, a turtle, a cockatoo and three cockatiels inside the Golden Valley freezer. Dogs, rabbits and birds were emaciated, the report said.
“Michael had been notified that they were being evicted,” reads a Mohave County incident report. “He had moved to an unknown address in Michigan. He was planning to come back for a few items including the freezer.
Court records show Beck was originally charged by County Antrim prosecutor James Rossiter with five felonies in relation to frozen animals found on the Central Lake property, and further felony charges were added a once law enforcement began investigating.
Both have pleaded not guilty to all charges. Beck is on bail; Arizona court officials said Turland was arrested this week on a bail violation and later released on a new bond.
Traverse City attorney Mattias Johnson, listed in court documents as representing Beck, and Emily Weiss, the attorney for Mohave County, Ariz., listed in court documents as representing Turland, did not return calls asking for feedback.
Bemiss said that while cooperation between animal control officers in different Michigan counties is quite good, state-to-state issues are more complicated, and having access to LEIN in the field would be helpful.
Grand Traverse County District Attorney Noelle Moeggenberg and Capt. Randy Fewless, Chief of Detectives for the Grand Traverse Sheriff’s Office, said that for animal abuse and other cases, there is a caution about the usefulness of the database.
“Active warrants will show up immediately and criminal history will take longer,” Fewless said. “The quality of information available depends on what has been captured. »
Moeggenberg agreed and said judges decide whether active warrants travel across state lines and prior convictions in other states are not necessarily available to a prosecutor, even with access to LEIN. , before an indictment.
“Hopefully if there are other convictions in other states, they show up in the out-of-state criminal history, but that’s not always the case,” he said. she stated.
Records from Arizona and Utah show previous convictions for Beck and Turland in animal-related cases. When she shared with Moeggenberg, she said some of those charges weren’t evident in the LEIN database.
Beck faced 16 counts in Washington County, Utah, in 2017, including possession of dogs that attacked and injured each other, possession of dogs that disturbed the neighborhood and failure to vaccinate. his dogs against rabies.
Records show she later pleaded guilty to four of those charges, performed community service, and the other charges were dismissed.
In 2019, Beck was found guilty of criminal trespassing and Turland was found guilty of obstructing justice and assaulting a police officer, in connection with an investigation into the theft of a flyball dog, according to the archives.
Flyball is a competitive dog sport where four dogs from two teams compete in a relay-style race.
Williams said as part of her ongoing research, she has studied how various counties across the state deal with animal abuse cases and share information.
“I don’t know how the courts can’t see these records from state to state and let people out on bail,” Williams said. “I’m just a random person and I find out about all these things.”
Moeggenberg said a lack of records isn’t necessarily the only reason a Michigan person with a history of animal abuse convictions facing new charges is often granted bail by a judge.
“The prison reform legislation changed the law and now we have a CSC first-offender on a public relations bond,” Moeggenberg said. “People often don’t like it, but under Michigan law animals are considered property.”
This law came to the fore in the 13th Circuit Court in June, when Judge Kevin Elsenheimer sentenced an East Bay Township man to six months in prison for felony animal cruelty, after more than 160 dogs, many of whom showed signs of severe abuse and neglect, were found in and around the man’s Supply Road home.
The sentence, which Moeggenberg also advocated, was an upward deviation from guidelines calling for three months in prison, Elsenheimer told a sentencing hearing.
The term “CSC”, mentioned above by Moeggenberg for comparison, generally refers to a charge of criminal sexual conduct, not a conviction, and a public relations bond releases a defendant on his promise, or his personal undertaking, to appear for future court hearings.
The Prison Reform Act Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed into law last year aimed to change the way courts deal with “low-level” offenses. To make animal abuse a more serious crime, the state legislature would have to change laws written decades ago, Bemiss said.
Prosecutors can still ask a judge to send a defendant back to jail when there’s evidence they’ve breached an obligation, poses a threat to the public or a specific victim, or poses a flight risk, Moeggenberg said.
A prior criminal record can only be used when the newly charged crimes are related to previous convictions, Moeggenberg said, which could come into play for Beck.
“This one is similar enough that we would try to use it if judged,” Moeggenberg said. “It’s a pattern of behavior, not a one-time thing.”
Turland’s case in Mohave County has been moved to Superior Court with a hearing scheduled for July 6; Beck is scheduled to appear for a preliminary hearing in the 86th District Court on July 7, records show.
Williams said she found credible information about two of her snakes, Jigsaw and Lucie, among the deceased animals Mohave County sheriff’s deputies found in the Golden Valley.
Sneck and Big Mama, who Williams described as friendly and “puppy-tamed” enough to accompany her on elementary school visits, are still missing, she said.
“They were my world,” Williams said. “Jigsaw was the best example I have ever seen of a bco (boa constrictor occidentalis). He was simply magnificent.