Animal Forfeiture by Miriam Sakewitz

Animal Forfeiture by Miriam Sakewitz, an incredulous but true story

First a little about me.  I graduated from Portland State University in Business Administration (Finance/Law) in 1985 and enjoyed a successful 14 plus year career as a Sr. Business Systems Analyst/Project Lead, a lucrative and opportunity rich career.  I had very good credit.  I had just purchased my first home, putting $15,000 down, following an inheritance from our mother whom passed away from Colon Cancer.  I owned the home only a few months, before my sister temporarily taking care of my dog, decided she wanted to keep it....AT ANY COST.  When she refused to return my dog, I retrieved him.  My sister, Vicki Ann Hilbert,  then filed an ordinance and neglect complaint against rabbits I owned for ten years, with well documented vet care, and against the dog to the Oregon Humane Society and Hillsboro Police Dept.  I lost everything following this dispute and the subsequent pursuit by the various entities who alleged animal neglect in order to tap in to inheritance money they knew I received and personal anger by an officer named Don Pierce and the subsequent political and monetary battle which ensured.

Following the death of my mother, a 500k inheritance was shared amongst me and my 3 other siblings.    I decided to purchase my first home in Hillsbor and my sister temporarily took care of my dog due to the heat going out my mother's old home I was staying in but she fell in love with him and didn't want to return him.  I went to her home and retrieved my dog from the yard.    My sister then made an ordinance and neglect charge with the Oregon Human Society (OHS) and Hillsboro Police Dept. against my rabbits and my dog.  OHS and the Hillsboro Police Dept. then started to target me for animal neglect in order to seize multiple rabbits I owned for ten years. My sister was hoping to get the dog back by making a neglect claim; she had left 30 messages and wrote me a letter when I got retrieved my own dog.  She by the way already has a dog.

Following an illegal search warrant (via attorney Barry Engle's admission) which also requested my financial documents, OHS and the police broke into my home, sawed open my shed killing one of the rabbits, and seized HEALTHY HAPPY animals.  There were sheds specifically built for them with a/c, skylights and windows.  The Hillsboro police, headed by Officer Don Pierce, were seen staging  my home by bringing in hay and strewing it across my home floors, smearing feces into the wood floors and putting bowls of water and food in different rooms of the home; a civil attorney testified at the forfeiture hearing (see transcript) that my place was very clean when she went into my home the morning of the seize; but it was not found that way when I was allowed in my home and viewed it with a realtor of mine.  I have two binders of vet care records and my regular vet saw many of the animals they claimed neglected just two days prior (see vet letter in link above).   The deceased rabbits had necropsy's done by my vets and were just moved from the old home to the new home and I was going to bury them; they could not document any of the deceased as being neglected and they were not, but they made up numbers and false accusations like I even operated on them myself!!  Officer Don Pierce made up reports and witnesses, even going out of jurisdiction to the city of Milwaukie, where a cop there did not like me from a dispute with an ex-boyfriend.

This turned into a legal battle for SIX months and between $50-70k in legal fees in which Washington County got rid of and neutered many of the animals during a Court of Appeals STAY; the judges were threatening my attorneys to settle and I met with a new attorney just days before jury selection after realizing my attorneys did not have my interest at heart; the new attorney called into the judge, but my attorneys in cooperation with the DA and judge set up a plea hearing, calling and threatening me the day (a cd recording of these calls is available at the Oregon State Bar under a complaint made against attorneys Barry Engle and Adam Dean) after my new attorney (Keith Jordan) called Judge Price to inform him I was going to hire him I wanted to go to trial. 

The plea took the entire day, almost 8 hours.  I was ordered back to court twice; while on Xanax they had me sign a blank plea agreement making moot my tort action against the State, Hillsboro Police Dept. and the City of Hillsboro for neutering and selling animals during a Court of Appeals Stay, damage to my property, tampering of evidence (staging my home to make it look like the rabbits lived inside) and even killing one of my animals with a chain saw that the police used to saw open one of my sheds to get to all the rabbits as well as forfeiting all my animals, paying $20k to the State and FIVE years FORMAL probation.

The Oregon Humane Society and Hillsboro police dept. staged my home to make it look like my rabbits (legally considered "livestock" which requires an even more minimal standard of care) lived inside the home instead of the cedar shed with windows air conditioning and insulation, and even skylights!  Neighbors saw them take hay from outside to inside my home, which I found in a mess.  My outdoor security camera cords had been severed and the police busted down my door.  Heading this was ordinance officer Don Pierce, a nasty cop who had stopped by my home several times with his buddies to scream and threaten me through my door.  My first attorney met him and told me he was making up a file and had issues and was trying to make me guilty.  He made up reports, witnesses and even used pictures of an old property owned by my mother in Milwaukie, Oregon (with a basement and stairs) to pretend they were my purchased house (a one level ranch) in Hillsboro, Oregon.  False animal neglect charges were brought just so they could seize the animals, including two dogs which they never mentioned.  I had purchased a Maltese companion "milo" to play with my Shizi shu mix "Muffy" while I was at work.  The newspapers never commented that they took my TWO dogs.

My Court of Appeals stay was based on then Oregon's Ballot Measure 3.  The appeal was made moot as a result of my case not making it to trial and subsequent legal changes to this measure which beforehand prevented civil forfeiture of property (yes, animals are considered property) before conviction of a crime.  The standards on "livestock" were also changed.  In short, the Oregon laws (in specific, Ballot Measure 3) were changed after my case to make it easier for them to seize and forfeit pets and livestock WITHOUT conviction.

I attended many pre hearing while the State attempted to legally forfeit my animals before trial, including a bond hearing whereby Washington County demanded $85,000 to prevent forfeiture (based on old laws in which the Court of Appeals overrode with the Stay).  I was asked to resign from my position as a Sr. Business Systems Analyst, a career I held for 14 plus years.

I had all my vets supporting me including an expert witness named Dr. Jenkins from San Diego Avian and Exotic. 

Animal Forfeiture using civil forfeiture proceedings brings in lots of money to the parties involved in pursuing animal neglect charges based on the donations they receive, bonds and penalties.  Again animals are considered property in a legal sense.  Oregon Ballot Measure 3 of 2000, which my appeal and subsequent stay was based on, protected forfeiture of property BEFORE conviction of a crime.  Unfortunately the interested parties had this ballot revised to their interest when I was prevented from trial to exercise my rights.

This took me out of a very successful career as a Sr. Business Systems Analyst.  I also lost my home, which I just purchased putting $15k down to foreclosure, and an extensive record following a very clean record.  I have not spoken to my family since.

On the day of the seize, I rushed home and was crying my eyes out; I called a civil attorney who testified my inside home was immaculate when she was allowed briefly in the home in the morning of the search to retrieve my computer.  She testified at the initial forfeiture hearing as such.  This was also evidence along with the State's photos of perfectly healthy animals some showing the same property id but they would give different conditions and show fat healthy looking bunnys pulling back their neck fur in an attempt to show them otherwise; it was a joke to look at the State's photos.  There was even one of a guinea pig they were holding up on their white board as a bunny.  Some of their claimed neglected rabbits were just seen by my vet two days prior (see Vet Letter above) and some put down by police directive which my vet indicated were expected to make full recovery.  Don Pierce hated me and wanted to make me suffer; he was laughing when he saw me crying at my home while they chased down and stomped over some of the animals after they had sawed open my shed floor and killed one via the chainsaw.

 The police admitted to my attorney Barry Engle that they had killed one of the rabbits with a chainsaw when they were cutting up my 8 x 22 shed; she was euthanized.  I also found one of my pets crushed in the hay that the officers had obviously stomped over during the seize; she was found dead in the hay with blood coming out of her nose, eye, obviously crushed to death.  The police used the chainsaw to cut open the entire floor of the shed; DA Matt Hall did not want the public to know this and relayed this to my attorneys.  There was even provable evidence tampering by the police and OHS who were seen by neighbors bringing hay from outside to inside my home and before and after seize photos I had, including the testimony of the civil attorney who viewed my home the morning of the seize and testified my home was immaculant (see Forfeiture Hearing Transcript above).  My rabbits had iinsulated sheds outside with air conditioning, sky lights and windows and did not reside in my home.  (Reference Forfeiture Hearing Transcript and PCR Appeal links above).

When I found where my pets were located, I saw that they were being re-named and some were sick and not being treated by the police; for example, one of my long eared Velveteen Lops (grey/white) had abscesses and had obviously lost weight; it was clear she needed immediate attention, so I took them and had tried to get them to my vet in Seattle, Washington when on the same day I was heading to my vet, they were re-seized by the police in Chehalis, WA.  I learned later that animal was put down.  Mary Huey of Rabbit Advocates advised me.

After the rabbits were re-seized by the police, the media (via the DA's comments) would say in the papers that I thought the animals were mine.  Of course I did; I owned them for ten years and paid all their vet bills.  They said this because when you have an interest in the property, it is not theft and is a defense against it, so they were trying to sway public opinion.  There is also a lesser than evil defense as it was obvious the animals were not receiving care BY THE POLICE.   This is common.  One of my expert witnesses, Dr. Jenkins from San Diego Avian and Exotic was also an expert witness on a famous snake breeders case; the city seized all his snakes, they did not know how to care for them, losing many.  And I even researched cases like this in Canada where horse breeders had their horses seized on allegations of neglect only to have their vet go out and document the animal care organizations NOT caring for them.  These organizations have joined the forfeiture band wagon for earning money deceptively from the public both from forfeiture bond money and donations by claiming the animals are neglected and they need care.  Some of my pets just seen by my vet were euthanized (reference "Vet Letter" link above).  Also, another one of my vets, Dr. Dalquest went out to the police department where the animals were being kept and alongside my attorney, Barry Engle, documented the police not caring for the animals and said many had signs of being out for neutering ((this was during a Court of Appeals STAY, which means don't mess with the property) and some were sick.  Barry Engle by the way did not share or make me aware of these notes, but when I called Dr. Dalquest, he asked "didn't your attorney give you my notes", but then Barry was not an attorney I trusted and hence, I was looking for a new one and this is why I met with Keith Jordan.

I was about to fire Barry Engle and Appellate attorney Adam Dean after attorney Keith Jordan called into the court informing the judge he was going to represent me.  My prior attorneys found out via the judge and DA and they arranged a plea hearing against my consent and threatened me the day of the plea to go to court or face an arrest warrant.  I was ordered back to court twice and it took almost 8 hours while I was on a tranquilizer Xanax (see Expert Letter link) and signed a blank document in which the attorneys and DA filled out and even put my initials in for me.  This is what the PCR hearing and PCR appeal detail.  I have a detailed complaint on record against Barry Engle and Adam Dean with the Oregon State Bar and included is a cd audio recording of all the attorneys who called me the day of the plea, 4/11, and Keith Jordan indicating he informed the judge I wanted to go to trial and he through they were afraid of losing.  It was key to keep me from trial as I had much against them and could exercise a tort action against all the parties which I had more than ample evidence.  Sadly, I did not make it.

At the restitution hearing, attorney Matthew Daily showed the judge receipts for party supplies for New Years Eve and Napa Auto Parts purchased by the police for so called "care of the animals".  My attorneys outside my presence wrote in the plea that I had to pay the State $20k, put me on FIVE years probation and gave me 12 misdemeanors and I had no prior record...I would not have pled after 6 months and over $50k, a Court of Appeals stay on my animals and a provable tort action against the State  (whose case was a joke and according to Adam Dean, had many problems).  There was enough to even dismiss the case based on illegal search warrant, evidence tampering by the police and the many problems of identification even holding up the same animal with two different id's and condition statements and holding up a guinea pig claiming it was a rabbit and not identifiying them.

 I was hung politically so please do not think having money or defense attorneys help as many attorneys also fear fighting the government and can easily turn on their own client after getting paid a nice sum of money and/or being threatened by the judge as Adam Dean admitted to me.  I handed over recordings of my attorneys threatening me on the morning of the plea, 4/11/07, one day after my birthday and also of Keith Jordan, a new attorney I met a day before the plea.  Keith Jordan called Judge Price and alerted him that I was going to hire him and Keith, as recorded, informed Judge Price who told Keith to show up two days later on jury selection day; the plea was held one day before but after Judge Price talked to Keith Jordan; his voice recording is on the recording I gave the Oregon State Bar and I believe they made a cd of it along with the complaint filed against attorneys Barry Engle and Adam Dean.  Kieth Jordan (California based lawyer who was practicing in Oregon at the time) also said on this recording "they don't want to go to trial because they know they can lose".

My hopes are to spread awareness of the true agenda of these organizations, how they are using civil forfeiture to not only seize drugs, but even one's PETS!! WHERE THERE IS AN OBVIOUS EMOTIONAL BOND, and provide knowledge and power to those who may face similar charges.  Based on my own research during the case, I found these charges, often false and malicious, to be a common tactic based on old civil forfeiture laws to bring in revenue to those entities claiming "neglect" when in fact, they are the ones who don't care for the animals under "their care".  In short, there are other cases where animals are seized on false neglect charges and civil forfeiture is used to set a very high bond (in my case, $85k) and gain donation money from the public.  And to even appease a cop that doesn't like you as officer Don Pierce told me "I would never work again once he was done with me and he sided with my sister, not me".  You see, the guys usually partner with other organizations and entities to achieve their goals.

I spent over $50k on attorneys and legal fees probably upwards to $70k and after SIX months, my own attorneys FORCED a plea that was not voluntary and legal counsel is not the ticket to winning these cases; they are drawn out, money intensive (making many people not able to fight them) and emotionally devastating.

 Dr. Dalquist of Gateway veterinary went out with Barry Engle to view the rabbits when the police re-seized them and held them at the police station in Hillsboro.  Dr. Dalquist said they were not being cared for, made notes he gave to Barry and they noted many were out for neutering during a Court of Appeals STAY in which Barry informed me your property cannot be messed with, including neutered or altered.  When Dr. Dalquist complained to the Oregon Humane Society; he relayed to me that they told him "we are a multi-million dollar company and can do what we want".  Incidentally, Barry never shared these notes with me; I learned of them when I contacted Dr. Dalquist. 

 At the restitution hearing, attorney Matthew Daily showed the judge receipts for party supplies for New Years Eve and Napa Auto Parts purchased by the police for so called "care of the animals".  I would not have pled after 6 months and over $50k, a Court of Appeals stay on my animals and a provable tort action against the State, whose case was a joke and there was enough to even dismiss it based on illegal search warrant, evidence tampering by the police and the many case problems, a STAY on my animals and tort notice filed.  The initial DA's proposal was that they would drop all charges if I gave them my animals and after they destroyed my property, killed some of my pets, etc and taken animals I owned for TEN years, and having a clean record, I was not for this...little did I know just how corrupt Washington County is. 

I was hung politically so please do not think having money or defense attorneys help as many attorneys also fear fighting the government, do not have the experience fighting forfeiture, and can easily turn on their own, as in my case when threatened to settle the case by the judge as happened in my case, and many in law sorry to say care only about the money they can make and you are a transient client.  Adam Dean would regularly tell me to pay him more or he wouldn't file necessary papers with the court and when I said I wanted to fire Barry Engle, he would say he would resign...this may not be allowed, but doesn't make a client feel like they have their interest represented.  Adam Dean would also complain that the trial cost more and I had him on a fixed fee paid very well.  I had received a $95k inheritance (my cut of the $500k inheritance).  Should people really have to spend all this money to defend a civil forfeiture action against their own pets or other property???

Even if there is a CHARGE but no conviction in a case, this is too easy to achieve; this to me goes against due process and the constitution which should proptect our property and make the state prove "BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT" that we are guilty BEFORE property is seized.  This is the only way to keep integrity in the entire process.

I remember the officer in this case, Hillsboro officer  Don Pierce (who spearheaded this case) writing in one of his made up reports that "I would do anything for my pets", so he knew I would fight for was bait and I would not go for their initial offer to drop all charges if I gave them the animals.  Even with a fight, I was forced out of a trial and me and my animals went through hell and some needlessly lost their lives DUE TO POLICE.