Deputies and game wardens found two deer living in a North Idaho double-wide last year when they seized 30 other animals, including a 28-year-old horse, in what authorities described at the time as an animal abuse case.
After the deer were “released into the wild” and the other animals euthanized, a battery of animal cruelty charges were dismissed against the homeowner, Darlene Gardner.
Gardner is now suing Kootenai County and “jack-booted thugs” from the Sheriff’s Office in a $2 million federal lawsuit alleging the officers didn’t have a search warrant and pushed the door in on her 16-year-old daughter who was home alone, watching TV with her pet deer and shih tzu.
“These animals were my life and my family,” Gardner said Thursday. “People need to know they killed my babies.”
Gardner’s husband, Wayne Gardner, pleaded guilty Sept. 24 to one count of animal cruelty. He was given a $500 suspended fine and ordered to complete 40 hours on the community labor program. He is not a plaintiff in the suit filed in U.S. District Court.
Lt. Kim Edmondson, of the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office, said Thursday she couldn’t comment on the suit, which she and other county officials had not seen. A claim filed by the Gardners earlier was rejected by the insurance company representing the county, Edmondson said.
The suit asks for $1 million in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages, in addition to attorney fees.
The Aug. 27, 2007, raid on the family’s home was done without a search warrant or consent from the property owners, the suit says. It also says the animals seized included some previously placed with the Gardners by animal control officers.
Gardner said she was “forced” to load her pets into the animal control vehicle and they were taken to the Post Falls animal shelter. A month later, she said, she was told she had to pay an $18,000 bill to get her animals back, leaving her no choice but to sign a document relinquishing her legal ownership. The animals were all euthanized Oct. 20, 2007.
For more than 10 years, Kootenai County animal control officers have referred animals to the Gardners for care, the suit says. Gardner also has been involved in the Humane Society and done animal rescue work.
Despite the county’s reliance on the Gardners to provide board and care for rescue animals that no one else wanted, authorities violated the Constitution and “illegally entered, searched, seized and destroyed all of the animals,” the suit said.
The seized animals included “Buck,” the horse Gardner had for 15 years, and 12 dogs. Officers also seized her two cats, including Jewel, a one-eyed feline she saved from euthanasia when the Coeur d’Alene Animal Shelter closed in 2007.
At the time of the raid, sheriff’s officials said the two deer had lived in “squalid conditions” in separate bedrooms in the Gardners’ mobile home for four years.
Idaho Department of Fish and Game agents released the deer and that was “the best thing they could do,” sheriff’s Capt. Ben Wolfinger said at the time of the raid.
Gardner said she had raised one of the deer since finding it four years ago as a newborn in the middle of a mountain road where she believed a cougar had killed its mother. She found the second deer months later in the same area.
The Gardners no longer live in the rural home in the Loffs Bay area, south of Coeur d’Alene, said Coeur d’Alene attorneys Larry Purviance and Chris Thomas, who filed the suit. The family now lives in a Coeur d’Alene apartment, with one dog.
Only 16-year-old Brittany Gardner was at the family’s rural home at the time of the 2007 raid, and she didn’t consent to a search, the lawsuit says.
“They ripped the shih tzu right out of her arms,” Darlene Gardner said, claiming her daughter still has emotional problems related to the raid.
“Despite her pleas to wait until her mother could return, and despite her desperate protestations to leave her alone and not enter her home, the defendants, acting as jack-booted thugs, stormed into her home,” the suit says.
The raid was carried out even though the officers were told earlier by Kootenai County Deputy Prosecutor Ken Brooks not to carry out the search without consent from the homeowner or obtaining a search warrant from the court, the suit says.
When Darlene Gardner was called home two hours after the raid started, officers threatened to charge her with child endangerment and have her teenage daughter taken into custody by state child protection services workers, the suit alleges.