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Sheriff responds to questions from cattlemen about policy

Letter to the Editor:

It was with great interest that I read the article titled “Cattlemen question policy”, in the Oct. 8 issue of the Independent-Reporter.

The article reported on the meeting between several local cattlemen and the County Commissioners about a Sheriff ’s Office policy that I put in place in an effort to deal with the large amount of “livestock out” calls that we receive weekly. After reading the story, I fully expected someone from the newspaper to contact me for either a comment or to elaborate on the concerns of the cattlemen, but that didn’t happen.

Therefore, I am writing this letter to the editor in order to clear up any confusion, set the record straight and to let everyone know what happened after the meeting with the Commissioners.

First, some background information.

The Ellsworth County Sheriff ’s Office spends a great amount of resources responding to calls of “cows out” every year. This is not a new problem; it has been ongoing for years.

I have been in law enforcement, in Ellsworth County since 1980 and I remember years ago that when there was a problem with the same cattle getting out over and over again, law enforcement could and would write a ticket to the repeat offender. As I recall, it wasn’t done very often and was usually used as a “last resort” to try and get the livestock contained. It wasn’t until I took office in 2017 that I fully understood the depth of this problem.

For example, from Jan. 1 to Oct. 5 of this year, my office has received 163 calls for livestock being out. We have made contact with 60 livestock owners, 114 times as of Oct. 5, about their livestock being out.

My major concern with livestock running at large is not with the producer that might have livestock out once or twice a year. It is with the people that have livestock out multiple times a month at the same location. This puts the motoring public at unnecessary risk of property damage, injury or death that can be prevented. In an effort to try and reduce the number of these type of calls, I created a brochure to inform livestock owners of how I intend to address this issue which will in turn, make the roads in Ellsworth County safer to travel.

My deputies began handing out the brochure May 1, 2020, to anyone that had livestock out. The information in the brochure stated that beginning Sept. 1, 2020, we will issue a written warning to the owner or the owner’s authorized agent for “maintaining or permitting a public nuisance”, except for the second or subsequent violation in a 7-day period or for a third or subsequent violation within a 30-day period, in which the owner or the owner’s authorized agent will be issued a Notice to Appear in District Court for “maintaining or permitting a public nuisance”.

This brochure was only intended to address the issue of livestock out at the same location, multiple times, and being put back in. It did not address the policy that I put into place that dealt with livestock that were out and then struck by a vehicle.

In that policy, if livestock got out, even once, and were hit by a vehicle, there was no provision for a warning, the owner would receive a ticket to appear in court.

In reading the comments made at the meeting with the Commissioners, it was apparent to me that I created a great deal of confusion by publishing one policy and not the other and for that I apologize.

After the cattlemen in attendance at the meeting with the Commissioners had left the courthouse, an individual who was also at the meeting asked them if any of them had talked to the Sheriff about their concerns since after all, it was his policy and not the Commissioners. When they said that they had not, it was suggested to them that they walk over to the Sheriff ’s Office and speak with me, which they did.

We met in the downstairs meeting room where we could socially distance, and I explained the brochure policy and the livestock getting struck by a vehicle policy. The ranchers said that they understood my reasoning in regards to an animal getting hit on the road and the owner receiving a ticket, but brought up several variables to the example I gave them that applies to livestock getting out. After listening to their concerns and comments on this policy, I told them that I agreed with them and the points that they made. I also told them that the Sheriff ’s Office will no longer write tickets for livestock that get hit on the roadway as a normal course of business unless, the investigation revealed some extenuating circumstances.

In regards to the brochure and the policy that it contains, the ranchers explained to me why a “second or subsequent violation in a 7-day period or for a third or subsequent violation within a 30-day period”, was in their opinion, unfair to the livestock producer. After listening to their comments, I once again agreed with their reasoning and I asked them if changing the wording to a “third or subsequent violation in a 7-day period or for a fourth or subsequent violation within a 30-day period” would be more acceptable. They said that it would certainly help the rancher that is trying to keep his livestock in, yet still give law enforcement an avenue to proceed with if they continue to run at large.

In closing, I would like to say that implementing these polices was my first attempt at trying to come up with a workable solution that would be fair to the livestock producers, reduce the amount of time spent on livestock out calls and protect the motoring public that travel in this county. Thanks to the individuals that came forward, we were able to sit down and communicate our concerns with each other, make changes that both parties find acceptable and hopefully make Ellsworth County a safer place to travel.

Murray A. Marston

Ellsworth County Sheriff