Court rules JCSO animal seizure ‘unconstitutional’

Court rules JCSO animal seizure ‘unconstitutional’
A Jones County Circuit Court judge has ruled the seizure of five household pets during an alleged animal cruelty case was “unconstitutional”. (Source: Gray News)

JONES COUNTY, Miss. (WDAM) - A Jones County Circuit Court judge has ruled the seizure of five household pets during an alleged animal cruelty case was “unconstitutional.”

On July 11, 2018, the Jones County Sheriff’s Office and the Humane Society of the United States seized 55 dogs, 34 cats and 17 dead animals from the property of David and Mary Ellen Senne on Lyon Ranch Road.

Among the animals seized were five household pets that belonged to the Sennes.

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According to court documents, Judge Dal Williamson expressed concerns with the process of how the five animals were seized.

Court records say a video taken the morning of the seizure, shows an “apparent” spokesperson for HSUS telling a relative of the Sennes that “Mrs. Senne could surrender all the other animals except the [five] she felt obligated to”.

“We have also assured her that we will not touch the [five] that she has talked about which I just named to you,” said the spokesperson. “She does not have to relinquish those animals if they should so choose.”

Documents show Mary Ellen was also asked to sign an animal surrender form from HSUS that contained language stating that all the animals would be removed from the property with the exception of the five household pets.

“It occurs to the court that the inclusion of that specific language in the animal surrender form of HSUS combined with the representation of the HSUS spokesperson...would cause most people to believe that the named dogs would not be taken from the plaintiff’s property the day of the seizure," said Williamson.

Aside from the “constitutionally defective means” of how the dogs were seized, Williamson also had concerns with procedural due process.

“This court finds that the procedure and requirement of §97-41-2 is a violation of the ‘absolute’ right to procedural due process of the Sennes and a violation of their 14th Amendment right to procedural due process,” said Williamson.

The documents say Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood was notified of the claim of unconstitutionality of the matter. However, Hood has not taken a position on the case.

“The seizure of the five household dogs of the Sennes is, therefore, set aside as a void act,” said Williamson.

The court denied motions by defendants Jones County Sheriff Alex Hodge and the HSUS seeking motions for reconsideration. The Sennes’ motion for summary judgement was also denied.

The document says “attorney’s for the parties shall contact the court administrator for a date for the trial”.

It goes on the say if the Sennes wins, the defendants must bring forth the animals or the “value of the property, if the property ‘cannot be found’ in addition to 'any other damage the plaintiff may have sustained by reason of the wrongful taking or detention of such property by the defendant".

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