A McIntosh County man charged with four counts of overworking, mistreating or abandoning animals who was scheduled to stand trial Friday pleaded guilty to three of the our counts.
James Schnabel, 44, entered the guilty pleas Friday in South Central District Court in Bismarck. The fourth charge was dropped at Friday’s hearing before District Court Judge Cynthia Feland.
Schnabel was charged in April with four counts of overworking, mistreating or abandoning animals.
The charges relate to a Jan. 15 incident on Schnabel’s farm where he told investigators wild dogs spooked his cows causing them to die from trampling and suffocation.
According to an affidavit from McIntosh County Sheriff Laurie Spitzer, on March 4 someone reported there were more than 100 dead cattle on Schnabel’s farm.
On March 13, Spitzer and Lyle Kenner, a veterinarian from Linton, went to Schnabel’s farm and Spitzer wrote they observed numerous dead cows, some in piles and in various locations on the farm, most frozen solid.
A necropsy of three of the calves that were not frozen determined they died of starvation.
The adult dead cattle were not examined because they were too frozen, Kenner wrote, but they were thin, emaciated and none appeared to have normal body conditions.
On July 1, Schnabel was charged with Class B felony criminal attempt at theft of property and Class A misdemeanor committing a fraudulent insurance act.
An investigator with the North Dakota Insurance Department's fraud unit, wrote in an affidavit that Schnabel and his wife submitted a claim to Farmers Union Insurance on Jan. 30 for cattle that died being chased by wild dogs. The Schnabels had coverage for specific perils on livestock, including attacks by dogs or wild animals.
The investigator wrote that it was his opinion the cows died of starvation and many had been in place longer than Schnabel indicated, based on March 13 photographs taken at the far.
Schnabel told insurance agents that he had returned home and found seven dogs attacking his cows on Jan. 30. He said he fired shots, and the dogs ran away.
In the following weeks, agents visited the farm near Venturia, took photographs and inspected a pile of animals, which were mired down in manure and entangled in each other, determining 116 cattle, worth $92,300, had died.
Court action is pending on the insurance fraud charges.
At Friday’s change of plea hearing on the animal charges, though, Schnabel’s attorney, Ross Espeseth, told Feland there were two dogs and Schnabel did not have time to fire shots at them.
Logan County State’s Attorney Gerald Kuhn, who is prosecuting the case, said he agreed to drop the fourth count of mistreatment because evidence was “shaky.”
One count in the complaint was for two feeder calves found dead in a pole barn, the second count is for five feeder calves found dead in a corral next to the pole barn, the third count is for one yearling and one calf found dead in another corral adjacent to the pole barn and the fourth count was for the rest of the animals, both dead and alive, on the farm.
Feland sentenced Schnabel to 60 days in jail, suspended, fined him $1,000 on each of the three counts and suspended the fine on two of the counts.
He was sentenced to serve two years of unsupervised probation, complete 80 hours of community service, pay $325 in fees and allow officials to monitor his operation during the duration of his probation.