Questions regarding the truthfulness of a deputy's testimony in a high-profile animal abuse case has led to a ruling which ultimately may toss the charges out of court.
On Friday, Jan. 20, Delaware County Special District Court Judge Alicia Littlefield ruled in favor of a motion to suppress, or squash, the Delaware County Sheriff's Office warrant affidavit which led to the July 2, 2016 arrest of Lisa and Dennis Garcia of more than 44 counts each of animal cruelty and neglect.
In her ruling, which came after more than three hours of testimony by Delaware County Sheriff's Deputy Sean Meador, Littlefield cited at least three areas of concern in Meador's affidavit.
Littlefield repeatedly held up the page of Meador's affidavit in question and said she, like all judges, expect to be told the truth in the information contained in documents presented by law enforcement members.
"It only takes one, and there are three and that concerns me," Littlefield told Meador.
The questions about Meador's search warrant, raised by the Garcias’ defense attorney Winston Connor II, involved whether the deputy lied - intentionally or by lack of training - to obtain the search warrant against the rural Colcord couple.
Throughout the day, Connor repeatedly questioned Meador about individual words or full sentences in the affidavit and their authenticity, as well as the deputy’s actions on July 1 during his initial contact with the Garcias, which led to the warrant application.
Questioning the affidavit
Connor questioned Meador’s language in the application which included information from a July 1, 2016, meeting with both Garcias at their rural Colcord home.
In one instance, Connor examined the statement where Meador wrote Dennis Garcia “did not allow me entry onto the property.”
Under cross examination, Meador said Dennis Garcia never directly barred him from going into the fenced in yard, but rather he did not invite deputies into the yard, and instead brought the dogs out to Meador and Deputy Travis Baker for examination.
In another instance, Connor questioned Meador’s use of the word “ongoing” in describing how Dennis Garcia explained several dogs died from the Parvo Virus. Meador testified Dennis Garcia told him several dogs had died of the disease.
A third area of contention came in a paragraph where Meador described how Dennis Garcia had “buried close to 100 dogs and 2 horses in his yard” and “Garcia said that he freezes them before burial, then buries them several at a time.”
Another area of concern, raised by Connor, involved Meador's description of the yard and potential hazards to the animals.
Connor asked Meador what he used to compile his affidavit.
Meador said he used his field notes, interviews - with the Garcias and the complaining parties - and advice and counsel from supervisors. He testified the field notes had been destroyed.
Another issue of contention involved Meador’s statement that he “observed several dogs that are suffering some type of lesions or open sores and/or boils that did not appear to have been treated.”
Connor asked Meador how he made this determination, questioning the deputy’s knowledge when it came to medical issues.
Meador admitted on the stand that he did not have veterinarian training, and based his observations on his personal experience.
Throughout the day, Meador repeatedly testified the statements in his affidavit came from the “totality” of the interview with both Garcias, and contained primarily paraphrasing rather than direct quotes.
Connor visibly bristled when Meador indicated he did not watch body camera footage taken during the interview with the Garcias prior to submitting his application for the search warrant.
Meador replied that he was unable to review the footage because of issues at the time with the sheriff's office computers and due to a lack of training related to the body cameras.
The body cameras were purchased by the sheriff's office in early 2016 with a $9,242.88 Justice Assistance Grant.
Meador, who has been with the sheriff’s office for two and a half years, completed his Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training (CLEET) certification in May 2016.
Towards the end of the three hours of testimony, Connor called on Littlefield to immediately place Meador under arrest, citing Oklahoma Statute 21 Title 501.
The statute authorizes court officials to make an arrest if it is believed a person testifying may have committed perjury while on the witness stand or in a legal document such as the search warrant affidavit.
Assistant District Attorney Nick Lelecas immediately objected, asking Connor to make a formal request for an investigation into Meador’s testimony to be investigated by law enforcement.
“I hate that you didn’t have help,” Littlefield said to Meador when making her ruling. “You are a rookie. The last thing I want to do is to say give me your badge and gun, but that’s what he’s asking me to do today.”
Littlefield said she took Connor’s allegations against Meador seriously.
“I don’t like this at all,” Littlefield said. “I have to trust officers every day with what they are telling me. I don’t want to arrest an officer, but what I want are things to be right in [every] case.”
Throughout the conversation between herself, Lelecas and Connor, Littlefield continually referred a book of state statutes to determine the next course of action.
When Connor questioned if the sheriff’s office or district attorney’s office would do a complete - and truthful - investigation into Meador’s testimony, Littlefield said she would make the report herself, choosing to not arrest Meador in the courtroom.
After Littlefield ruled to suppress Meador’s search warrant application, Lelecas immediately filed a rule six motion, indicating he intends to file an appeal.
After the hearing Lelecas said the announcement in court provides him with five days to file his appeal.
At the end of the hearing Littlefield ruled the Garcias would return to court on Wednesday, Feb. 1, at which time she will make further decisions about the case.
Lelecas, citing ongoing litigation, declined to comment further about the status of the Garcia’s case or how this ruling could impact another animal cruelty and neglect case Meador is also involved.
That case, against Clare and Chris White of rural Jay, is expected to be before Littlefield at 10:30 a.m., Friday, Jan. 27, for an announcement hearing.
When contacted after the hearing, Delaware County Sheriff Harlan Moore said Meador remains a member of the sheriff’s office. Moore said he needed to confer with Lelecas and other members of the district attorney’s office before making any statement regarding the case.
Throughout the day, members of five animal rights organizations: Oklahoma Alliance for Animals, Miami Animal Alliance, Second Chance Pet Rescue of Grand Lake, Peaceful Animal Adoption Shelter in Vinita and the Lakes Area Pet Society, sat stone-faced listening to the testimony.
Dana Gray, spokesperson for the Oklahoma Alliance for Animals, one of the two rescue organizations that has worked with the sheriff’s office since the beginning of the case, said she was disappointed in the judge’s ruling.
“We continue to stand in firm support and praise the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office, commending them for doing a stellar job in fighting animal cruelty,” Gray said. “This was the most horrific animal cruelty case in the state, and included the dismemberment and decapitation of animals.
“What happened today was a disservice to justice.”
After the hearing, Connor said the questions raised regarding the affidavit were valid.
“Our Constitution requires law enforcement officers to be truthful,” Connor said, “In this case, the truth was not given to the court.”
He anticipates the case against his clients will be dismissed, because all evidence collected at the scene on July 2, came as a direct result of the search warrant.
“I don’t necessarily think [Meador] is a bad guy,” Connor said. “I think he’s young and inexperienced and had a lack of supervision.”
Connor questioned why Meador was assigned to the case, along with Baker, when the sheriff’s office has an officer trained to conduct animal cruelty investigations.
He also raised questions about the integrity of Moore’s office, saying a supervisor assigned to investigate threats allegedly made against he and his family on social media, by members of the animal rights organizations, were never fully investigated. He declined to identify the deputy in question.
“[The animal rights members] actions are based on their misinformation, which all started as lies from [the sheriff’s] office,” Connor said. “I just wish they would understand that the Constitution applies to everybody … from dogs….child molesters…or drugs or hot checks. The Constitution applies to everyone equally.
“Cops cannot just do what they want and lie to get there. There are consequences.”
Giglio v. United States
Connor said Meador’s testimony, and the inaccuracies found within the affidavit, could be considered a violation of the “Giglio” rule.
The rule, which stems from Giglio v. United States, is a 1972 case in which the Supreme Court ruled that prosecutors are required to reveal if a witness - specifically in this case, a member of law enforcement - has ever lied or committed perjury in a court document or in a court of law.
Connor said if the perjury charges are substantiated against Meador, prosecutors would be required to reveal every time he is called to testify it has been proven he lied under oath.
“Unfortunately, arguably, this is a career-ending thing,” Connor said, adding that, if found guilty, Meador’s credibility in all future investigations could be called into question.
Connor said he believes there were several factors working against Meador, as he conducted the investigation into his clients' actions.
“Young and inexperienced,” Connor said he believed were two key factors, along with “a lack of training, experience, knowledge, education and supervision.”
Lisa, 57 and Dennis Garcia, 72, were arrested on 21 counts of felony animal cruelty and neglect on Saturday, July 2, 2016, after deputies, assisted by volunteers from two animal alliances, discovered more than 20 dogs, including nine 8-week-old puppies, in various stages of health on their property.
On Tuesday, July 5, 2016, the Garcias appeared in Delaware County District Court, where bond was set, for 44 counts of animal cruelty and neglect each.
Later in the week, the formal charges against the couple were amended by Assistant District Attorney Stephanie Bush to be six felony counts of cruelty to animals.
Each count against the couple carries up to a $5,000 fine, and up to five years imprisonment in the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, or up to one year within the county jail.
In November of last year, the preliminary hearing for the couple was postponed until Jan. 20, after Littlefield ruled the district attorney's office and the sheriff's office needed to ensure that all evidence had been submitted to the couple's defense team.
The couple have been free since July 2016 on $15,000 bond each.
Editor's Note: The story was updated on Monday, Jan. 23.