HANSON CASE ENDS WITH JURY VERDICT IN FAVOR OF BAXTER COUNTY
Tammy Christine Hanson
EDNAH dog compound
After more than nine years of investigations, arrests, trials, following up on leads, an out of state extradition, appeals, and the filing of a federal civil rights lawsuit, the saga of the Tammy Hanson case has finally reached a conclusion.
A federal jury for the United States District Court – Western District of Arkansas Harrison Division – returned a verdict this afternoon in favor of the County of Baxter, Sheriff Montgomery, one former employee, and the two current employees that remained as defendants in her civil rights lawsuit after she rested her case yesterday. After deliberating for approximately three hours, the jury found that Tammy Hanson’s civil rights had not been violated and awarded her nothing on her complaint. Although Hanson told the court she planned to appeal, the case appears to be concluded for all practical purposes.
The Tammy Hanson case began on October 21, 2005 when Sheriff’s Investigators conducted aerial reconnaissance via the Sheriff’s Office helicopter over a parcel of property in the Gamaliel area of Baxter County where a dog compound or puppy mill was reported to be located. Neighbors residing in the area had been reporting numerous dogs barking from the area with sounds of distress. At least one neighbor reported their dog missing and believed it to be on the property in question.
Sheriff’s Investigators located the dog compound. From the air, they could see approximately 100 dogs running freely about. They also spotted numerous dogs in small dog cages along the roadway of the property and in the main compound area. In addition, there were also larger dog pens with numerous dogs in each. There was trash scattered all over the compound, as well as a small swimming pool with stagnated water. Observers spotted dogs lying on the ground and not moving as the helicopter hovered overhead.
The Sheriff’s Office had received information that Tammy Hanson had picked up approximately 50 pit bull dogs from New Orleans, Louisiana that had been rescued from the area after Hurricane Katrina. Based upon what the helicopter pilot and observers had seen, the Sheriff’s Office applied for and obtained a search warrant from the Baxter County District Court, which was executed on the premises at approximately 5:00 PM on October 21, 2005. A local veterinarian and personal from the local Humane Society of North Central Arkansas assisted in the search.
Officers executing the search warrant were met by a female who identified herself as Tammy Hanson. She called the facility “EDNAH”, which stood for Every Dog Needs A Home. During the search, officers found numerous pit bull dogs in small cages standing in their own feces in uncovered cages. The search found over 500 dogs in pens that were unsanitary due to dog feces in them. Tammy Hanson and her husband, William Hanson, were placed under arrest on misdemeanor charges of Cruelty to Animals while the search continued. They were released on bond shortly thereafter.
The next day, October 22, 2005, officers found a dead pit bull dog in its cage, as well as 3 dead dogs in plastic trash bags. All animals at the compound were seized. An agreement was made between William and Tammy Hanson and the County that the Sheriff’s Office would maintain control of the property and animals for an initial period of three weeks. The Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Society of North Central Arkansas would be in charge of handling and caring for the animals. This agreement was sanctioned by the District Court.
Sheriff’s Deputies, Humane Society workers, and other personnel were on scene for weeks after the search warrant was served, pending a final disposition of the seized animals. Ultimately, Tammy Hanson and William Hanson were each charged with 28 misdemeanor counts of Cruelty to Animals. Later in December, 2005, after investigation into other complaints, Tammy Hanson was charged additionally with 3 misdemeanor counts of Theft of Property for stealing animals and 3 misdemeanor counts of Tampering with Physical Evidence. All counts were set for trial in the Baxter County District Court.
At the conclusion of the trial, Tammy Hanson and William Hanson were each convicted of 20 of the misdemeanor counts of Cruelty to Animals. Tammy Hanson additionally was convicted of 2 of the misdemeanor counts of Theft of Property. The Hansons were set to appear for sentencing on February 23, 2006. On the day of their sentencing, despite having initially appeared at the court complex, both Tammy Hanson and William Hanson absconded before being sentenced. The District Judge issued warrants for failure to appear with no bond. The seized animals were ultimately turned over to the respective Humane Societies for placement.
The Hansons remained fugitives from justice for more than 3 years. During this time, the Sheriff’s Office investigated several leads and citizen tips. However, it was not until July 15, 2009 that the Sheriff’s Office learned that a citizen tip indicating that Tammy Hanson and William Hanson were living in a farm house in Sutton, Vermont had been given to Sheriff Michael Bergeron of Caledonia County, Vermont. Sheriff Bergeron communicated with Sheriff Montgomery. Acting on this tip, Vermont authorities went to the residence, found Tammy Hanson living there under an alias, and took her into custody on the outstanding Baxter County warrant, as well as a felony warrant from Lawrence County, Missouri for stealing animals.
Tammy Hanson was taken to a detention facility in Vermont. She refused to waive extradition back to Arkansas and in fact fought extradition in the Vermont courts. Ultimately, a Governor’s Warrant was obtained to secure her extradition. She was returned to Arkansas by Baxter County Sheriff’s Deputy Julie Tilley on September 25, 2009 and then booked into the Baxter County Detention Center. William Hanson was later located near Kansas City, Missouri and taken into custody there. He was extradited back to Arkansas by means of a Governor’s Warrant on October 25, 2009, also to then be incarcerated in the Baxter County Detention Center.
On or around November 4, 2009, the Hansons were finally sentenced in Baxter County District Court for their original convictions in 2006. Tammy Hanson was sentenced to serve one year in the Baxter County Detention Center. William Hanson was sentenced to a lesser term. There were also significant fines, court costs, and restitution ordered to be paid in those cases. She appealed her conviction to the Baxter County Circuit Court, but the sentencing order issued by the District Court was not stayed and she remained in custody.
While incarcerated, Tammy Hanson filed suit on March 8, 2010 in the United States District Court – Western District of Arkansas Harrison Division for alleged violations of her civil rights. In her 39 page complaint, she named the County of Baxter, Sheriff John Montgomery, and at least 15 current or former employees of the Sheriff’s Office as defendants in her lawsuit. In her lawsuit, Tammy Hanson alleged a plethora of violations that included:
Failure to Provide Vital Medical Treatment
Deprivation of Life’s Necessities – Disparate Treatment
Failure to Permit Exercise of Religious Freedom
Failure to Properly Train and Supervise Employees
She sought $300,000 in compensatory damages, additional punitive damages, and demanded a trial by jury.
Tammy Hanson was released from incarceration on July 9, 2010 after being given credit for time served awaiting sentencing and a few days of credit for working inside the jail. The appeal of her criminal charges was dropped.
The Baxter County Defendants answered the complaint and denied all allegations. After filing extensive pleadings and motions, eight of the listed defendants were dismissed as defendants from her lawsuit by order of the United States District Court Judge on September 26, 2011. Her lawsuit continued slowly working its way through the court system, with an evidentiary hearing being held, followed by a date being set for jury trial beginning Monday, May 12, 2014 involving the remaining defendants, which included Baxter County, Sheriff Montgomery, and the former Jail Administrator, among others. A jury was seated and testimony began on Tuesday, May 13th when Tammy Hanson called her first witness to the stand. She continued calling witnesses, many of whom are currently inmates in the Arkansas Department of Corrections, until she rested her case on Thursday, May 15th. At the conclusion of her case, the attorneys for the Baxter County Defendants moved for a directed verdict in favor of the defendants, arguing that Hanson had failed to present sufficient evidence on her claims to allow the case to go further. The Judge granted the motion to dismiss claims against four defendants and removed them as defendants in the case. The Judge denied other motions and allowed the County of Baxter, Sheriff Montgomery, the former Jail Administrator, and two other employees to remain as defendants and for some of the claims against them to move forward beyond that point.
The defendants then presented their case. Jury instructions followed, then closing statements by each side. During her closing statement, Tammy Hanson stated she was “positive” the jury would reach the correct verdict.
After deliberating several hours, the jury reached its verdict, which was read aloud by the Clerk of Court. The jury unanimously found in favor of the defendants on all counts and all claims. The defendants did not violate Tammy Hanson’s civil rights, and they were exonerated by the jury’s verdict. Tammy Hanson was awarded nothing by the jury.
The members of the jury and the parties involved were excused by the court.
/s/ Chief Deputy Jeff Lewis
Baxter County Sheriff’s Office