BENSON -- Felony charges of animal cruelty against three members of an Appleton family have been dismissed for lack of probable cause. The misdemeanor cases will go forward.
The omnibus order was issued Monday by District Judge David L. Mennis in the Swift County District Court cases of Leroy Telford Dokken, 64, Joann Marie Dokken, 60, and Michael Leroy Dokken, 36.
The Dokkens were charged with animal cruelty for the alleged maltreatment of four horses found last summer in a barn near Appleton. Three of the horses were in poor condition, with signs of malnutrition, dehydration and lice. One horse was dead and decomposed, with just bones and hide remaining. The surviving horses were moved to another location for rehabilitation. Their custody was awarded to the Swift County Sheriff's Office during a court hearing.
All three defendants are scheduled for settlement conferences March 26 on the remaining two misdemeanor charges for animal mistreatment.
In the order, Mennis found that there was insufficient evidence for the Dokkens to stand trial on the felony charge of mistreatment of animals by cruelty resulting in death of the animal. However, he found probable cause for the misdemeanor counts.
The judge found that the discovery of the dead horse, in a barn with the live animals, was not sufficient evidence to establish probable cause for the felony charge. Under the statute, the prosecution is required to prove the defendants' cruelty that resulted in the death of the horse. The Dokkens denied responsibility for the horse's death and the carcass was too decomposed for a post-mortem necropsy to determine the cause of death.
According to the complaints, a citizen re-ported to the Sheriff's Office on June 30 that the horses, with no food available to them, were at a property along 230th Ave-nue Southwest near Appleton.
Sheriff Jo-hn Holtz went to the barn and found the decomposed remains and three malnourished and emaciated horses. There were "just shavings of what was left of a hay bale" and about 4 inches of water in the trough.
The sheriff called the Animal Humane Society, and an agent from the Golden Valley-based agency investigated the complaint. The complaint notes that the pen did not have adequate lighting, ventilation or drainage. There was a manure pack of 1 to 2 feet deep on the floor.
As for the horses' condition, both the Animal Humane Society agent and a veterinarian rated the body condition of the horses between 1.5 and 2.5 on a 9-point condition scale -- 1 is poor or emaciated and 9 is extremely fat. The veterinarian's assessment included that the horses were suffering from conditions symptomatic of emaciation and dehydration.
The Dokkens, who claimed mutual ownership of the animals, were interviewed and allegedly told the sheriff and agent that they considered the horses their babies and took good care of them, driving 25 miles each day to care for them and hauling water to the site.
However, they couldn't recall how much or how often the animals were fed or watered and could not recall any vaccinations or parasite control efforts.