Court raises constitutional concerns over seizure of Jones Co. animals

Court raises constitutional concerns over seizure of Jones Co. animals
Dozens of animals were seized from the Sennes' 161-acre property on Lyons Ranch in Jones County in July 2018. (Photo source: WDAM)

JONES COUNTY, MS (WDAM) - The case between the Sennes and Jones County Sheriff Alex Hodge continues, and this time the Attorney General may get involved.

David and Mary Ellen Senne had their property raided on July 11, 2018, by the Jones County Sheriff’s Department and the Humane Society of the United States. Dozens of animals were seized from their 161-acre property on Lyons Ranch in Jones County. The Sennes were each charged with aggravated animal cruelty.

The couple filed an amended order denying motions for summary judgement in the Circuit Court for the First Judicial District of Jones County. The Sennes claim that Hodge and the HSUS violated their rights under the U.S. and State Constitution when five of their personal animals were seized in the raid, according to court documents.

Hodge and the Humane Society have said they are not in possession of the animals. Mary Senne said that she was presented with an alternative on the morning of the raid that “they could surrender all the animals outside their actual home to the Humane Society... and they would then be allowed to keep their five household dogs or else all animals would be removed.”

Mary Senne accepted the offer signing an “Animal Surrender Form of the Humans Society (HSUS)” with the following words handwritten: “All animals removed from the above listed property with the exception of Miss Poo, Loco, Sister Angel, Precious, and Abby.”

She also signed a "Surrender Acknowledgment."

The Sennes also said in a video taken the morning of the seizure, a friend of the couple is seen and heard having a conversation with the spokesperson for the Humane Society.

According to the document, the spokesperson is heard telling Mr. Sean Murphy, the friend of the Sennes, and his wife that the household dogs did not have to be included in the voluntary surrender and that Mrs. Senne could surrender all animals except the ones she felt morally obligated to.

The court said it found particular troubles with many circumstances surrounding the case, including regards to the search warrant and the representation by the HSUS spokesperson stating the personal pets would not be seized.

Court documents show that no sworn testimony of any person who had witnessed cruel treatment, neglect or abandonment of the five household dogs of the Sennes was presented to the magistrate that issued the Search and Seizure Warrant, raising constitutional concerns.

Another constitutional concern was raised by the court regarding the last line of the Notice of Seizure executed by Deputy Lt. David Ward and signed by Mary Ellen Senne on the day of the raid.

The document informs the Sennes that the “estimated bond or cash security deposit for the five (5) dogs for thirty (30) days is $4,750.000.” The last line of the Notice of Seizure said “Failure to post bond or cash security deposit within three (3) days shall result in the forfeiture of the animal to the court." The court said it had serious concerns about the constitutionality of that portion of the seizure notice.

The court said the plaintiffs shall notify the Attorney General to intervene and argue constitutionality.

The defendant’s motions for summary judgement was denied by the court and it was ordered that counsel for the Sennes shall take the necessary steps within 30 days to make the AG a party and have him state his position on the question of constitutionality.

Hodge has filed a motion for reconsideration of the court’s decision on the summary judgement ruling.

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