A jury found Robert Erickson, owner of a Helena Valley quarter-horse breeding operation, guilty of felony aggravated animal cruelty Wednesday in Lewis and Clark County Court.
Robert Erickson and his sons, Alan and Clayton Erickson, ran a quarter-horse breeding operation that was raided by the Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office on June 1. Nearly 60 horses were seized by sheriff’s deputies, a US Forest Service ranger and a Department of Livestock employee.
County-contracted veterinarians determined many of the horses exhibited signs of neglect. One of the horses had to be euthanized while in Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office of custody as a result of the neglect.
All three men were charged with aggravated animal cruelty.
Alan Erickson previously took a deal in exchange for his guilty plea. If the agreement is accepted by presiding Judge Kathy Seeley, both Alan and Robert Erickson are scheduled to be cruises at 9 am June 22.
Clayton Erickson, who was arrested while smoking a cigarette outside the county courthouse Tuesday on a warrant for a previous DUI, entered into a deferred prosecution agreement filed April 8. As long as he does not violate the terms of the agreement, the animal cruelty charge will be dismissed in five years.
Robert Erickson took the witness stand Wednesday, during the final day of the three-day trial, and argued that he was unaware of the condition of his herd or his pastures.
In 2018, an animal control officer responded to a call about an injured horse caught in barbed wire at an address on Fantasy Road, from which the Ericksons were later evicted, officials said.
The officer reported observing pasture areas that “were poorly maintained with sections of wire and a vast amount of debris strewn on the ground. The pasture was nothing but rock, dirt, and debris with no vegetation anywhere,” the affidavit states.
The court documents go on to detail the ongoing monitoring of the operation by the animal control officer. Horses were found with lacerations, hernias, lower back injuries, cracked hooves and extensive matting.
During his testimony, Robert Erickson referred to the animal control officer as “a big nuisance.”
When asked by Deputy County Attorney Fallon Stanton about a mare that had to be euthanized due to neglect while in the care of Robert Erickson’s ranch, he said he was not close enough to his operation to keep track of horses that needed to be euthanized.
“I’m not around those horses enough to know. … I don’t keep track of that,” Robert Erickson said.
His defense attorney Carl Jensen argued that Robert Erickson’s work as a truck driver kept him largely removed from the operation.
Still, Robert Erickson asserted in testimony that he visited the ranch at least once a month and saw every horse. He said he never had concerns about the way his son Alan Erickson was handling the livestock and argued that the horses were not being neglected.
Robert Erickson said from the stand the county stole his horses, deprived them of care so they would look neglected, lied about the more than $175,000 spent on caring for them, and plans to sell them.
“You guys took ’em, stole ’em I should say,” he said. “And you guys will make a big profit.”
During her closing argument, Stanton said it was months before one of the colts would let a volunteer come close enough to sedate the animal so its hooves could be trimmed.
She said one horse had a severe wound that was not cleaned for nearly a week, one was stuck in 18 inches of mud and excrement, and one had a heel that was separating from its leg because of untended hooves.
“You’ve heard from two different licensed veterinarians from three years apart that the conditions of the vast majority of the horses in both 2018 and 2021 were in dire shape,” Stanton told the jurors. “You can see from the photographs the obvious need for intervention for these horses.”