The co-owner of a West Plains ranch where authorities discovered dozens of emaciated horses last year is in custody after allegedly fleeing to Montana when charges were filed.
Jeff Hickerson, 65, faces first-degree animal cruelty charges. Hickerson owned property off West Deno Road near Palisades Park with his wife, Jan, who remains at large, according to jail records.
Authorities twice raided the property, once in July and again in November. Each time, animal protection officers found horses without drinking water and extremely malnourished. A veterinarian gave 44 horses seized on the property in November scores of 1 or 2 on a 9-point nutrition scale, indicating pain-inducing emaciation. Eleven of the horses required hospitalization, and Spokane County allocated $25,000 in December to help care for the horses after their seizure.
Jeff Hickerson is listed as the primary owner of the property, but no one was present when Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Services (SCRAPS) agents searched the ranch in November. When issuing a bench warrant for the married couple’s arrest, along with farmhand Randy Clements, in December, officials said they believed the trio had fled to Montana.
Prosecutors are asking for $100,000 bail on the charges, to be decided at Hickerson’s first court appearance scheduled for this afternoon.
Hickerson was under investigation in the early 1990s by federal authorities on suspicions he was peddling child pornography, according to court documents. He said he had no knowledge the participants in the material were underage and challenged the state law he was charge with violating. He later pleaded guilty to lesser charges in District Court, according to court records.