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State v. Dokken

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

September 3, 2013

State of Minnesota, Respondent,
Joann Marie Dokken, Appellant.


Swift County District Court File No. 76-CR-11-322

Lori Swanson, Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and Robin William Finke, Swift County Attorney, Harry D. Hohman, Assistant Swift County Attorney, Benson, Minnesota (for respondent)

David W. Merchant, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Stephen Lemar Smith, Assistant Public Defender, St. Paul, Minnesota (for appellant)

Considered and decided by Smith, Presiding Judge; Schellhas, Judge; and Chutich, Judge.


Appellant argues that the evidence was insufficient to support her conviction of mistreatment of animals, Minn. Stat. § 343.21, subd. 7 (2010). We affirm.


Appellant Joann Marie Dokken, her husband, Leroy Dokken, and her son, Michael Dokken, owned horses that they kept at property owned by Dan Tosel. The Dokkens' horses were located on the property when Tosel bought it in the spring of 2011, and Tosel permitted the Dokkens to keep the horses on the property while they looked for another stable. But Tosel grew tired of waiting for the Dokkens to move the horses and, on June 29, 2011, Tosel told the Dokkens to remove the horses from his property. The next day, Tosel looked in the barn and found a dead horse decomposing in a pile of manure and three extremely thin horses. Tosel called the sheriff, who inspected the property.

Sheriff John Holtz and Deputy Justin Girard testified that the three living horses were shut inside a barn, standing in piles of manure estimated as 8 to 12 inches thick. The horses had no feed, had very little water in the water trough, and were extremely thin. Sheriff Holtz could see ribs protruding through the horses' skin, and they had sunken eyes and missing hair. The smallest horse was covered with wet fecal matter. The mare's hooves had not been cared for and were curling up for lack of a trim. Sheriff Holtz and Deputy Girard also observed the decomposing corpse in the manure and noted that the smell of manure, urine, and decaying horse was overwhelming. Respondent State of Minnesota introduced photographs of the condition of the barn and horses at trial.

Because of the poor condition of the horses, Sheriff Holtz contacted the local veterinarian, Kathleen Jost, and a licensed police officer, Keith Streff, who was the senior investigator of the Animal Humane Society and an expert on animal maltreatment. Officer Streff, Dr. Jost, Sheriff Holtz, and Michael and Leroy Dokken inspected the three horses on July 5. Officer Streff used the Heneke scale, a measure of equine condition known as a Body Condition Score (BCS), to rate the condition of the horses. Officer Streff rated the condition of the horses as less than 2.5 to 3.0 on a scale of 10.0, indicating culpable neglect. Officer Streff described the sanitary conditions of the barn and horses as "just deplorable." He noted a "significant accumulation of feces"; a decomposing horse corpse; poor ventilation and lighting; no residual hay in the barn or pen, indicating that the horses had foraged desperately for food; and that nothing was located in the barn to suggest that appropriate animal-husbandry skills were being applied to the remaining three horses. After talking to Leroy Dokken, Officer Streff concluded that "no significant biological or philosophical answer . . . would justify the condition those horses were exhibiting" and decided that intervention was necessary. The condition of the horses' hooves indicated a lack of veterinary care, and Officer Streff opined that this fact was one of the circumstances that mandated removal of the horses. He considered "the totality of the circumstances" to determine if the horses could continue living under the conditions and concluded that the horses needed to be removed.

Dr. Jost described the horses' condition as 1.5 BCS on a scale of 9.0, most obviously caused by "poor quality feed or inconsistent feeding or lack of feed." All three horses had worms and lice. Dr. Jost was unable to attribute the condition of the horses to any parasitic condition or other cause, particularly since they responded quickly to increased food and water and more sanitary conditions.

At trial, both Leroy Dokken and Michael Dokken testified and denied maltreating the animals, stating that they supplied feed during the winter months and permitted the horses to pasture during the warmer months. Michael Dokken testified that he provided hoof care for the horses and the reason that the horses were confined to the barn on June 29 was because Tosel knocked down a fence and the horses had to be confined until the fence was fixed. Michael Dokken stated that Dr. Jost had refused to provide veterinary care in April 2011. Dr. Jost testified that the Dokkens had large unpaid vet bills with her practice.

Sheriff Holtz testified that when he first visited the farm, he asked who owned the horses and Joann Dokken stated that all three of the Dokkens owned them. Leroy Dokken acknowledged that all three Dokkens, including Joann Dokken, owned the horses and provided care for them together. Michael Dokken testified that Joann Dokken helped to feed and care for the horses and was with him about 75% of the time. Michael Dokken testified that the barn had ...

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