Plea Entered in Montana Cruelty Case

A Montana man accused of maltreating a herd of horses has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.

The herd of 450 horses was residing on 9,400 acres of deeded land and 30,000 acres of leased Crow Tribal land southeast of Billings, Mont., with scant forage and no water source.

On Dec. 30, veterinarian Jeff Peila, DVM evaluated the horses at the request of the Yellowstone County Sheriff's Department. At that time, the horses' condition was beginning to deteriorate, Peila said. Three weeks later the animals' condition continued to decline, Peila said.

The horses' owner James H. Leachman was later charged with 10 counts of negligently failing to provide veterinary care, food or water to helpless animals. Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito said the charges are connected to animals either discovered dead on the property or euthanized by law enforcement authorities. Each count carries maximum penalties of one year in jail and $1,000 in fines Twito said.

On Jan. 28, Leachman appeared in Yellow Stone County Justice Court and pleaded not guilty to all counts.

In a written statement, Leachman said the accusations against him were unfounded. Leachman also said he would seek the case's dismissal on grounds that authorities lack proof the horses died due to unacceptable agricultural practices "and for jurisdictional questions since the horses were largely on Indian Trust land on the Crow Indian Reservation."

In his statement, Leachman also said that authorities have not provided him with proof that he owned the dead horses to which the charges are connected, nor with the cause of the animals' death or reasons why law enforcement authorities euthanized two others.

Finally in his statement, Leachman said that the case is connected to a land dispute.

"This entire situation results from a dispute over the Leachman Ranch which is comprised not only of lands purchased by Stovall Holdings at a Sheriff's sale but also of leased Crow Indian lands," the statement said. "The pastures on the ranch are combination of the various types of land. It is unfortunate that Stovall has moved without authorization and trapped my horses in unsafe areas on the ranch."

As the case continues, volunteers are providing the horses with food and water.

Anyone with supplies, equipment or funds to contribute for the horses' care should call the Northern International Livestock Exhibition Billings office at 406/256-2495.

Disclaimer: Seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian before proceeding with any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy.