GREENLEE COUNTY — Attempts to prosecute federal employees following an incident involving alleged animal cruelty last year in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest have been dropped, according to reports.
The 2016 incident involved the death of three animals (two horses and one mule) in the care of Forest Service.
Greenlee County Sheriff officials at the time received a request from Maricopa County and began investigating the deaths that occurred in a pasture north of Three-Way.
In April, Greenlee County filed multiple counts of animal cruelty against the district, which had hired an independent law enforcement liaison to investigate.
That case has now been dismissed following an assertion of federal sovereign immunity, according to watchdog group PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility).
In a news release last week, the group took issue with how the incident was handled, calling the internal investigation’s final report (a one-page document, the group claims), “a model of obfuscation.”
The state case against the two federal employees was dropped when one of the defense attorneys motioned for the case to be moved to federal court, as federal employees must fall under federal jurisdiction, according to the doctrine of federal supremacy.
“Ironically, this immunity claim rests on federal employees fulfilling — not neglecting — their official duties,” said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “The only reason local authorities acted was because federal officials shirked their responsibilities.”
The final report points to the death of the animals being the combination of failures by leadership and local fire conditions present at the time, which led to the animals’ dehydration. Water provided to the pasture by a spring was thought to have dried up earlier in the year.