Settlement talks fail in civil-rights suit filed over seizure of horses

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By Gabrielle Porter

Two Bailey men who filed a federal civil-rights lawsuit against Park County officials and an Aspen Park-based veterinarian after being cleared of misdemeanor animal cruelty charges in 2013 will take the case to trial after settlement talks failed, their attorney said.  

Denver-based attorney Brice Tondre, who is representing Ron Swift and Randy Hatlee in their lawsuit against Park County Sheriff Fred Wegener and others, said Swift, Hatlee and the defendants they named could not reach an agreement at a Jan. 22 settlement conference.

Swift and Hatlee co-manage Echo Valley Ranch and the Bailey Feed Store and were prosecuted for a combined eight counts of animal cruelty after seven emaciated horses were seized from the ranch. The men maintained during the four-day trial that the animals were sick, possibly as a result of ingesting a toxin. The prosecution tried to prove that the men had starved the horses.

The suit also names Park County Undersheriff Monte Gore; Sgt. Bobbi Priestly; former animal control Deputy Cindy Hardey; and Aspen Creek Veterinary Hospital veterinarian Ashleigh Olds.

Swift and Hatlee claim in their lawsuit that Park County officials violated their Fourth Amendment rights with the unreasonable seizure of their property and by omitting key information on the warrant that allowed the officials to take the horses.

The groups will attend a pretrial conference on March 30, and the trial date likely will be set for sometime later in the year, Tondre said. U.S. District Judge Raymond Moore will preside over the trial.