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Crook County jury convicts Calif. horse owner of neglect


After 2 1/2 days of testimony, a Crook County Circuit Court jury late Wednesday found a California man guilty of animal neglect in a case resulting from a raids on a Powell Butte ranch in 2009.

A jury deliberated for about two hours before finding Robert Gruntz, 69, guilty on 10 of the 11 counts he faced of second-degree animal neglect, a Class B misdemeanor. At a status conference late Thursday afternoon, Cricuit Judge Daniel Ahern set sentencing in the case for Aug. 27th.

“This horse has sores. This horse is having a difficult time standing up,” special prosecutor Jake Kamins said in his closing statement Wednesday.

A $300,000, three-year grant made last year by the Animal Legal Defense Fund to the Oregon District Attorney’s Association is paying for Kamin’s work around the state, prosecuting animal abuse and neglect cases.

Photo after photo displayed for jurors showed 14 emaciated horses that were found on a Powell Butte ranch along Hwy. 126 in 2009, out of a total of 80 horses found there at the time under ownership of the Arlington Group.

“Ultimately and unfortunately, this horse gets euthanized,” Kamins said, pointing at a photo.

There is little doubt that the horses seized form the Arlington Group Ranch were in very bad shape. The question – who is responsible?

The state argued Gruntz, head of a California company that owned the horses, should have known about the animal neglect.

“This horse was in Bob Gruntz’s custody or control, and he failed to be aware of the risk that his behavior did not provide minimal care for this horse,” Kamins said.

The defense argued in its closing statement that Gruntz was in Los Angeles, and he did not know, and could not have been expected to know, the condition of the horses.

“An operation that had been going for three years, going on four with no problems, complaints no nothing, suddenly had a problem. And he should known that?” said Gruntz’s attorney, Geoff Gokey.

It’s not just an animal neglect issue. The horses were meant to be raced and bred. One horse was worth more than $250,000.

Crook County District Attorney Daina Vitolins was very happy to have the assistance on the long-standing case, which was tied up for years in legal arguments about evidence, an appeal of the sheriff’s office search warrant and related issues that went to the state Supreme Court.

“I can’t tell you how pleased I am that Mr. Gruntz was convicted,” Vitolins said, adding that she hopes he spends “a while” in jail. Kamins said each Class B misdmeanor count carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a fine.

“His story all along was that residents of Crook County, we didn’t know thoroughbred racing horses — they were just thin, they were not starving to death,” Vitolins said.

“He’s done this all over the place — it’s an investment scheme,” the DA said. “This is the first time he’s been held accountable.”

Kamins said he, too, was pleased with the result in his second case under the special assignment on animal abuse and neglect cases; his first, in Salem, was an acquittal.

Two former ranch employees testified for the prosecution during the trial, having reached plea agreements on neglect charges against them.

Crook County sheriff’s deputies returned to the same ranch in early 2012 and seized 11 more horses, also assuming care of 44 more as well as over a dozen cattle on the property; this week’s trial, which began Monday, related to the 2009 horse seizures, not the 2012 case.

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