April 5, 2012 | Vol. 42, No. 14

Cop: ‘I made a mistake’ with horses

Officer charged with 3 counts

In an interview this week, Haines Police officer Cassandra McEwen said she would plead guilty to three misdemeanor animal abuse charges filed against her and that she has resigned the force effective April 15.

She said she has been on paid medical leave for a nervous breakdown she suffered and that she’s not fit for duty because of medications she now takes.

“I made a mistake. I tried to be a superwoman with an alcoholic husband. I should have asked for help sooner. I should have moved the horses despite the sales contract (that stipulated the animals were to stay at a Comstock Road farm for two years).”

McEwen said that in August and October, she asked farmer Bob Henderson whether she could move the horses closer to a house she rented near 26 Mile. “He said he wanted the horses (on Comstock).”

Henderson contradicted that account in a March 13 interview with state trooper Josh Bentz, but McEwen said Henderson doesn’t remember well due to his advancing years.

She said Henderson didn’t always see her caring for the horses because she would be at the Comstock stables at night to coincide with her police shift. “I got in there the best I could. On days off, I asked my hubby to go to town and feed them for me. It’s quite obvious he didn’t.”

McEwen said “conditions at night weren’t conducive for me reaching them every night” and that when her shift ended at 5 a.m., often the stables would still be snowed in.

Another problem arose from bad hay she received in November, after changing suppliers. A type called “Orchard Mix” was full of weeds and had diminished nutritional value, she said. “I was stuck feeding that until another supplier could come through.”

McEwen said she supplied better hay to the animals in January, just before an investigation into the horses’ care started. She said she provided hay during the two weeks that Haines Animal Rescue Kennel cared for the animals. “I cooperated with HARK in every possible way.”

“I am taking responsibility for the mistakes I made. I no longer own animals of any kind,” she said.

McEwen has told some, including Bentz, that she was leaving town. She said she has separated from her husband. Asked for her plans, she said she intends to get therapy. “After that, I don’t know.”

Resident and 30-year horse owner Greg Podsiki, who wrote a letter to the newspaper last week pleading for sympathy for McEwen, said this week McEwen had volunteered her horses for outings with youths and helped care for other animals around town.

But he said he wouldn’t defend McEwen’s care of the horses. “To me, there’s no excuse. She could have called any number of people to (care for the horses). If you can’t take care of your animals for a long period of time, you need to sell them.”

Other horses have died here in the past due to neglect, he said.

“It’s just because she’s a police officer and that we have HARK (that the matter became public) but that’s a good thing,” Podsiki said. “Having even one horse in Haines is a huge financial burden. This happens to horse people all the time. They love horses so much they can’t see that they can’t take care of them.”

Horses need food daily and in winter they need water two or more times a day. “In the wintertime, when the snow is deep and the water is freezing, it’s a lot of work.”

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Haines Borough police officer Cassandra McEwen was to be arraigned 10 a.m. Thursday on three misdemeanor counts of causing “severe physical pain or prolonged suffering” to horses under her care.

McEwen, 42, has worked as an officer here since 2009.

The complaint, filed in Haines court Tuesday, is based on a Haines Animal Rescue Kennel report dating back to Nov. 23 indicating that stable owner Bob Henderson and others who frequented Henderson’s property made complaints that the horses weren’t adequately cared for.

“Their chief concern was that horses weren’t given adequate food and water and were showing signs of malnourishment,” according to charging documents.

The documents also note that veterinarian Elizabeth Lyon found the condition of the horses “alarming” and on a body condition scoring scale, ranked them at “the lowest possible score for a live animal.”

Trooper Josh Bentz interviewed McEwen and reported that she acknowledged neglecting the horses but also provided contributing factors that prevented her from properly caring for them.

McEwen told Bentz she asked Henderson if she could move the horses she was buying from him closer to her residence at 26 Mile Haines Highway. “McEwen felt Henderson didn’t trust her to take proper care of the horses,” Bentz wrote.

Henderson, however, rebutted that account in a March 13 interview with Bentz. He told Bentz that he never prevented her from moving the horses and would have preferred it because he didn’t like keeping horses in his barn all winter, according to charging documents.

The matter became public in early March when McEwen was apparently planning to move the rehabilitated horses to a barn near 26 Mile. Henderson said he came forward at that time because he believed HARK should have authority to place conditions on release of the horses to McEwen, following their maltreatment.

McEwen told Bentz last week that she planned to move to Montana but indicated to him that she wanted to see the matter resolved before she departed.

Trooper Bentz said the case would be prosecuted by an Anchorage district attorney who would have the authority to increase, decrease or alter the charges.

The maximum penalty for a “Class A” misdemeanor conviction is one year in jail and a $10,000 fine.