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 raided the property 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 Service agents searched the ranch in November. A bench warrant was issued for the married couple’s arrest, along with farmhand Randy Clements. Officials said in December they believed the trio had fled to Montana.
It is not Jeff Hickerson’s first run-in with the law, according to court records.
Federal agents investigated him in the early 1990s on suspicion of peddling child pornography, according to court documents. Hickerson said he had no knowledge that the participants in the pornography were underage and challenged the state law he was charged with violating. He later pleaded guilty to lesser charges in District Court, according to court records.
Investigators are searching for information about Clements’ and Jan Hickerson’s whereabouts.