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Animal cruelty investigation evidence fails to support claims of abuse

Gerald Mahan, who kept horses on a property in the 23000 block of Aspen Road south of Bagley, reported Friday, March 25, that someone had broken into a building, beaten and stabbed his horses, killed one and dragged it into a swamp.

According to Clearwater County Chief Investigator Todd Spray's report, the animal abuse did not happen. He said the call from Mahan came in at 5:48 p.m. and at about 6 p.m. Clearwater County Deputy Dan Gazelka responded to the Aspen Road address and spoke with Mahan. Gazelka photographed the scene and examined a horse Mahan reported had been tied up and beaten with a pole, but could see no damage to the animal. The deputy said there were 17 horses on the property March 25, but none there when he returned March 31 for further investigation.

"Mahan was apparently boarding his horses at the above address, and the property is owned by someone else," Spray said. "The property owner did not have any livestock on the property."

He said the investigation will continue next week.

Mahan also reported the alleged animal abuse to the Minnesota Federated Humane Societies, an entity established by the state Legislature in 1987 to investigate reports of cruelty to animals.

Tim Shields, an attorney in private practice and administrator and general counsel for the MFHS, said in a telephone interview that Mahan reported the attacks on the horses in great detail. He said Mahan and a friend also sent cell phone pictures of the horses in question showing signs that the animals' hair was not right. Shields said MFHS will continue the investigation, but he wasn't aware that any investigators from MFHS had gone to site.

MFHS issued a press release March 30 reporting that another horse had its legs broken and then was dragged into a swamp where it died. Gazelka returned to the Aspen Road address March 31 and located one dead horse that appeared to have walked into a swampy area, since there were no drag marks seen.

"What we have is one dead horse that probably died getting stuck in the mud from exhaustion," Spray said. "Based on the investigations on 3-25-11 and 3-31-11, it doesn't appear that there have been any horses that have died from cruelty or abuse. The case remains under investigation, and the Clearwater County Sheriff's Office will follow-up on any and all credible leads."

Spray described Mahan's report of abuse to his horses as "false reporting or inaccurate reporting."

He said a veterinarian will also examine the evidence.

"I spent all of yesterday afternoon on this and all of this morning Spray said Friday. "While all of this horse stuff came up, we had a child protection case that got little or no attention (from the public)."

Mahan was not available for comment. The friend who took the cell phone photos to send to MFHS said he does not have a phone.