When Thurston County seized 18 goats from the Lattin’s Cider Mill Farm back in June, the story was ridiculous enough at the time. It was called the Great Goat Raid by some of the locals. It had the air of a circus, a comedy, and a tragedy all rolled into one show. The emergency phone search warrants, multiple search warrants, botched due process, failure to correctly count the number of goats they seized, and the obvious misuse of police and prosecutor resources to harass the most well known farm and agritourism business in Thurston County have all contributed to the spectacle. The embarrassment of heavily armed deputies making the laughable claim that they were “threatened” by the 85-year old Carolyn Lattin half their size has only added to the discrediting of the whole silly circus.
Unfortunately, the actions by the Thurston County Sheriff’s office and the Prosecutor’s office have only brought disgrace on both departments, and it is a pointless and terrible shame. This could have been avoided with some maturity and leadership by either department from the beginning.
(Please note, the author has updated this article with source documents, a video of the most recent court hearing, and more related articles and links since it was first published)
Goat renditions to secret “black” sites where the goats suffer
The goats were seized because complaints of goat cruelty had been filed by disgruntled fired former farm workers and some people who appear to have an ax to grind with this well-known very public farm business. This was the theory. Hundreds of people see these goats every day. They are often featured on videos and in photos taken by the tens of thousands of “agri-tourists” who visit the farm every year. These types of disputes and envy squabbles are part of the human condition, and normally we expect law enforcement to use common sense to moderate the personal disputes. However, the Thurston County Sheriff’s office decided to go full emergency alert, and without a vet to review the situation, and without counting how many goats they seized, they grabbed the goats and delivered them to a local organization called Hoofed Animal Rescue of Thurston County (HAROTC) which is a local non-profit run by an employee of animal services.
HAROTC renditioned the goats to a secret black site in Thurston County. Nobody is allowed to know where the goats have been sequestered, and who is watching them. Since some of these animal seizures over the years have been legitimate and obvious cases of neglected or abused hoofed animals, very few people seem to pay attention to what happens to the seized animals. However, in this case, the Lattin family has been steadfastly trying to get their goats back and attempting to verify the goats are okay.
Recently, the Thurston County Prosecutor’s office was forced to allow licensed veterinarians to inspect and visit the goats (after they had been moved to another “neutral” location). During this examination of the goats, it was determined that the health of the goat herd had declined significantly under the “care” of HAROTC at the secret black site. Among other problems, the Lattins’ young bucklings were penned with an adult billy which had been sodomizing and abusing the young bucklings seized from the Lattins’ farm. Usually, young bucklings and castrated male goats (called wethers) are kept separated from the adult male billy goats, because of this type of abuse. Uncastrated billy goats are usually used to breed female goats, and by their nature they will attempt to mount almost anything in the pen. It also appears that despite the driest summer in recent memory, hoof rot on this herd only got worse. (see recent vet report here)
The Courtroom Circus, the Lattin family just want their goats back
Despite the Lattin’s relentless efforts to rescue their goats from wherever they have been housed, the Thurston County Prosecutor’s office has refused to return them. HAROTC has hired an attorney to represent their interests now (which is odd since they are technically providing a service to the county), and I’ve attended a variety of hearings in Thurston District Court as the Lattin’s family continues the legal process to get their goats back. There have been many hearings, motions, and a variety of legal efforts to get their goats back from Thurston County, but the Prosecutor’s office has refused to return them.
This case is no longer about animal cruelty. Whatever the initial excuse used by an overzealous and ideologically blinded Thurston County sheriff’s deputy, there has been a cascade of incompetence on Thurston County’s part, and the collapse of credibility for the Thurston County Prosecutor’s office can’t be overstated. Recently elected Thurston County Commissioner and former Thurston County Sheriff Gary Edwards has signed up to testify on behalf of the Lattin’s farm and family. Many people are coming forward with similar stories of abuse by the Thurston County Prosecutor’s office. Some people are beginning to wonder why the Thurston County Prosecutor Jon Tunheim doesn’t put the same energy into putting away real criminals in the county.
Thurston County gets personal in an effort to destroy the Lattin’s Farm business
As the legal case against the Lattin’s farm gets shakier by the day, rather than recognizing their mistake and overreaction, the Thurston County Prosecutor’s office has decided to double down on dumb and go scorched earth on the Lattins’ farm business of 40 years as punishment. The heavily armed deputies from the sheriff’s office will try to convince a jury that an 85 year old 100lb. Carolyn Lattin “threatened” them and made them fear for their safety. Once the Prosecutor’s office realized they couldn’t intimidate the Lattin family or avoid a jury trial which the county will likely lose, the Prosecutor’s office decided to charge the Lattin’s family not just with one initial count of animal cruelty, but now with 18 counts of cruelty each (even though the county’s own vet reports don’t support these claims).
The Prosecutor’s office has repeatedly manipulated The Olympian to write negative stories about the Lattins’ farm (although even The Olympian might be wising up to this tactic now). The Prosecutor’s office’s media campaign efforts with apparent assistance from a few HAROTC members is attempting to destroy the Lattin’s business by convincing local businesses to stop taking their cider products and to boycott their local, decades’ old business.
When I spoke to Carolyn Lattin, she indicated that six long time local business customers had informed her they would no longer purchase her family’s locally produced cider. Multiple people have been convinced by Prosecutor Jon Tunheim’s media efforts to boycott the Lattin’s Cider Farm (according to Facebook posts around the county).
Thurston County’s Prosecutor’s office is creating terrible precedent
In the end, this type of legal circus and abuse of the legal system is far more significant than the damage done to the Lattin family, their business, or the credibility of HAROTC and the Prosecutor’s office. The average citizen won’t ever know the full story, nor will they be able to follow every step of the legal dance or media blitz. However, there will be general precedents and unintended consequences from this type of fiasco, and this is the fallout which should concern everyone:
- If you attempt to let older animals live out their lives on your farm, you are putting yourself at extreme financial, legal, and reputation risk. Older animals are more sickly and tend to be harder to keep at peak health in their last years. Most people will get the message it is better to butcher the animal quickly because you never know when a disgruntled jealous neighbor or an ignorant person from the city decides to call in a complaint. The prosecutor’s office has sent this message loud and clear – when in doubt kill it quickly. This is very unfortunate for those of us
who would prefer to let older animals live out their natural lives as long as they can remain happy and live a good life. These animals have become our pets, but won’t be worth it if the owners will get crucified for letting them live.
- Conversely, the message has been sent to all the disgruntled and ignorant people who know little about farm life, rural living, or animal husbandry that filing phony animal cruelty complaints with Thurston County will work as a harassment strategy against people you don’t like. It has now been demonstrated that nobody in the Thurston County Sheriff’s office or the Prosecutor’s office has the expertise, knowledge or discretion to sort out the cranks from the truth. This is sad and only encourages more abuse of the system.
- The Thurston County Prosecutor’s office and the Sheriff’s department are
losing substantial credibility in the county. This pains me because I have regularly testified at the commission for at least seven years now on many occasions that these departments needed more resources and support. It is now clear that they are misusing the resources to put away sex offenders and instead they use taxpayer resources for personal vendettas that defy logic and common sense. This is not good for the community or public safety. We must be able to trust our local law enforcement agencies, and destroying this trust over this circus is just self-destructive. This is a terrible side effect of this fiasco. The Prosecutor’s office deserves particular blame since they are theoretically an additional check on a rogue police officer (which do exist sometimes). The checks and balances have collapsed, and they could have stopped the foolish emergency search warrant, the botched goat raid, the failure to adequately protect the goats in care of the “state”, and the vindictive attacks against community members who resist. This is ugly behavior and could have been avoided with maturity, compassion, and better processes.
- The mostly volunteer animal rescue efforts have suffered a serious collapse in credibility as well. I know many people who provide this service for the good of our community and have selflessly helped save horses, goats, and other large animals. Many of them do good work for the right reasons. Unfortunately, this avoidable fiasco has only made it less likely that honest and good people will step forward to help fill this necessary role. Who would want to spend the energy, time, and money to help when you will be forced to participate in campaigns of personal destruction and questionable judgement like this?
- Finally, the scorched earth campaign against a long time farm business like the Lattin’s Cider Mill is surely going to discourage and destroy the desire of anyone else to try a business open to the public like this. Former Commissioner Sandra Romero squandered hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars in an effort to promote “agritourism” in Thurston County. It was money largely wasted which was typical of Romero’s political career. However, the theory of promoting rural “agritourism” businesses will never achieve reality when those same businesses (rarely profitable and very risky) are easily destroyed at the whim of local government. It is a tremendous risk to allow the public on your farm. Why would anyone do this when you are nearly certain to lose everything by trying to build a vibrant community asset like the Lattins’ Cider Mill Farm? Running a business like this isn’t like taking a desk job. It takes hard physical work, often late hours, and the risks are very high. Unfortunately, Thurston County’s actions in addition to being inexcusable are probably going to create a chilling effect throughout rural Thurston County for years to come.
I interviewed Carolyn Lattin, she told me “I have never abused an animal in my life. I can’t believe what is happening to us. I can’t believe how in one day they can take everything away that we spent so many years to build.”
I can’t believe it either.
OUR CONSTITUTION BEGINS WITH THE PHRASE “WE THE PEOPLE.” IT WAS THE FOUNDER’S INTENT THAT GOVERNMENT BE CREATED BY THE PEOPLE, TO SERVE THE PEOPLE. IT WASN’T THEIR INTENTION FOR THE PEOPLE TO SERVE THE GOVERNMENT. IT WAS ALWAYS INTENDED THAT GOVERNMENT WHICH FAILED TO SERVE THE PEOPLE SHOULD BE “ALTERED OR ABOLISHED.” UNTIL WE RETURN TO THE FOUNDER’S INTENT, WE REMAIN WE THE GOVERNED…
Background articles, links and source documents:
You can find tons of videos like this from people’s visit to the farm