Saturday, December 24, 2016

Michigan: Animal cruelty case against dog hoarders Lynn Higgins and Michael Higgins falls apart as judge throws out most of the state's evidence

MICHIGAN -- A judge has ruled searches of a Cottrellville Township couple's home and property were done illegally during an investigation into dog hoarding.

Circuit Judge Daniel Kelly also denied the prosecution's motion requesting additional charges be brought against Lynn Higgins.

Kelly ruled in an opinion that St. Clair County Animal Control Officer Ken Jewell and Deputy Marcus King violated Lynn Higgin's Fourth Amendment rights.


Judge Kelly states Animal Control Officer Jewell's June 13 walk into the Higgins' back yard was nothing more than a "technical trespass" — it was just to see if someone was home.

On June 14, Jewell made contact with Michael Higgins. According to Wolf's motion, the couple stated the officer needed a search warrant to enter the home. During preliminary examination on July 13, Jewell testified he "came to an understanding" with Michael Higgins that he could enter the home without a warrant.

Judge Kelly decided that while Michael Higgins consented to allow Officer Jewell into the home, Lynn Higgins had initially said no.  The judge said while her husband consented to the search, it didn't make it legal.

"The law is clear that Mr. Higgins' grant of consent does not outweigh Mrs. Higgins' express denial of consent. Therefore, ACO Jewell's search of the home and loft on June 14, 2016, violated Mrs. Higgins' Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches," the opinion states.


Kelly ruled Lynn Higgins' rights were again violated June 15 when Deputy King performed "a warrantless investigatory walk around the house." Judge Kelly believes Deputy King's purpose for entering the property on June 15th was "for the unlawful purpose of gathering evidence without a warrant."

The judge further ruled that evidence obtained with a subsequent search warrant can't be used at trial because the evidence used to request the warrant came from an illegal search.

"Defendant's motion to suppress is granted as to all evidence and observations obtained as a result of ACO Jewell's warrantless searches on June 14, 2016, and June 15, 2016; Deputy King's warrantless search on June 15, 2016; and the invalid warrant obtained on June 15, 2016, by Deputy King," Kelly wrote.

The judge also stated in the opinion the Higgins' consent June 15 was not voluntary.

"The court is not persuaded that Mr. and Mrs. Higgins' consent was not made under duress or the product of actual or implied coercion. By the time the Higgins consented on June 15, 2016, their rights had already been violated multiple times, officers had been present on Mr. and Mrs. Higgins' property for three days in a row, and the Higgins' were told that a search warrant was being processed. Reviewing the totality of these circumstances, it is apparent to this court that is more likely that Mr. and Mrs. Higgins consented to the search and seizure on June 15, 2016, because they felt backed into a corner and had no other option," Kelly wrote.


Lynn and Michael Higgins were both charged with abandonment of 10 or more animals, a four-year felony, after 98 dogs and three cats were removed from their residence at 7585 S. River Road in Cottrellville Township.

Lynn Higgins has a jury trial scheduled for Dec. 13.

Her lawyer, Allen Wolf, said he's waiting to hear from the prosecutor's office on how the case will proceed and to determine exactly what evidence will be allowed. He said Jewell's observations on June 13 were not ruled out by the judge.

"We're very pleased with the judge's opinions," Wolf said.

Michael Higgins pleaded guilty to the charge Nov. 14 and is scheduled for sentencing Dec. 19.

A call to the prosecutor's office was not immediately returned.

The dogs were taken in by the county animal control as well as rescues throughout the country. Fourteen dogs were euthanized at animal control after showing symptoms of parvovirus.

These are comments that were left online about the Higgins' dog hoarding case. However, what caught my eye is Karen Riggin's comments. She seems to have been somewhat involved in the placement of some of the dogs after the seizure, but certainly doesn't have much good things to say about the case, the seizure, the shelter or the placement of the dogs. In fact, she flat-out says the animals were "not cared for at the prosecuting shelter". 

She says she was working with the Higgins "prior to the seizure". In what capacity? Was she buying dogs from them? Did she know the horrific conditions inside the home? 

She complains that the shelter opted to use local rescues over her -- maybe because they found out she had a 'relationship' with the Higgins and were worried she would turn right around and hand the dogs back to them if she got possession of them? Or maybe the shelter insisted that all the dogs be sterilized and she didn't want to do that? Who knows? Riggin doesn't bother to explain what exactly her involvement was before the seizure.


It appears that she is a breeder ("I am very excited to announce this pending litter.  This litter is the product of four friends who have worked together for years, Ch. Iseyjar Mjoll is co-owned with me by the Runestone Icelandics sisters Elaine Mozur and Dolores Porrino, and Astvinur Imaldur I co-own with Hrafna Icelandics Karen Riggin."). In 2013 she was on the board of the National Icelandic Sheepdog Rescue Alliance.   

Barbara Barham - It is good to see a judge stand up for the 4th Amendment. Hope this works out for the animals.

Karen Riggin - The animals, with the exception of the ones that got parvo and were not cared for at the prosecuting shelter, are taken care of

Karla Brewster - Karen Riggin, still not legal to make an end run around the law. Why not go in with food and medication and help....spay/neuter? Rather than strong arm?


Karen Riggin - I was just addressing the status of the animals.I fully support the judge's decision. I was involved with the rescue effort that helped keep some of the dogs out of the shelter by working with the owner prior to the seizure, then worked to do our best to help shelters that were given dogs information on the breeds, took dogs that got parvo and is still watching because we worry that there were uneducated placements from some of the shelters and groups that the seizing shelter opted to work with over breed rescues. The first dogs that came out were voluntary releases to a local group and a breed rescue, then things went south.

Karen Riggin - I did what I could, less than had I been local. There were many people who helped - it was a community effort that spanned the country. The heavy lifting happened locally. The dogs were largely in good shape.

We would prefer to see attempts to help rather than jump to seizures. We also offered educational help to shelters/groups that were adopting out dogs from this situation as the breeds are not on most people's radars and have some traits that can make them a challenge. Being rebuffed on that was frustrating; we will continue to watch for dogs being rehomed as both breeds can be very vocal as it is part of what they do in the jobs they were bred for.

(Times Herald - Nov 30, 2016)