LAPORTE, Minn. — A couple from the north-central Minnesota community of Laporte have been charged with nine felony counts of overwork/mistreatment of animals/torture for depriving horses of food, water or shelter.
A Hubbard County sheriff's deputy responded to the Johnson residence on April 4 after receiving a report of animal neglect, according to the statement of probable cause filed with Hubbard County District Court.
The deputy saw two horses that appeared malnourished and a dead horse inside the shelter. The deputy did not see any water or food for the horses.
Stephanie Nicole Johnson, 27, and Johnathan Macarthur Johnson, 32, have been charged.
The complaint states Stephanie Johnson refused to show the deputy the horse feed and denied that there was a deceased horse. When the deputy advised her that he saw the horse, then she admitted it "went down" in January. Stephanie said the horse would not get back up, so she shot the horse. She again refused to show the horse feed.
The deputy then left the residence and parked along 295th Avenue in view of the residence, while a search warrant was drafted. The deputy saw Stephanie Johnson bring buckets of food and a water hose out to the horses.
According to the complaint, the woman approached the squad car and asked, "Are you really going to do this to me?"
When asked how many horses she had, the woman replied that she had five. The deputy advised her that a March 7 report noted that there were eight horses. The woman said she sold three of them and said there were not any other dead horses or animals on the property.
After obtaining a search warrant, the deputy and an investigator entered the Johnson property. Upon observing the dead horse, Stephanie Johnson said she shot the horse in the stomach because she was moving her head too much.
The investigator located two additional deceased horses on the property. Stephanie Johnson said the horses died while foaling. The deputy did not observe any evidence of a foal near the deceased horses.
The woman then said that one of the horses, Robyn, died in February when it was 40 below zero.
Stephanie Johnson said she and her husband, Jonathan, go to Bemidji daily to purchase bags of alfalfa cubes for the horses. Law enforcement saw multiple empty bags of alfalfa cubes and only one partial bag in the residence. There were no other bags of horse feed.
The deputy saw two live horses in the pasture and that there were numerous trees missing bark as a result of the horses chewing on them.
A deceased foal was found along the edge of the fence, partially in the water. Stephanie Johnson said she had no idea that it was there and did not know which horse had given birth to it. According to the complaint, "the foal appeared to have been there for some time as its eyes were missing and the intestines were hanging out."
On April 5, law enforcement and a veterinarian returned to the Johnson residence to examine the five living horses and four deceased horses. The vet said the live horses were in poor health from a lack of adequate nutrition. The vet used a Body Condition Scoring (BCS) to calculate each horse's heath. The score goes from 0 (being dead) to 9 (extremely fat). Just one horse received a 4 while the others ranged from 0 to 3.
The Johnsons were advised that the horses would be seized at that time.
On May 28, Hubbard County Sheriff Aukes learned that the pregnant horse, Lady, had died as a result of poor nutrition while at the Johnson residence.
The case is currently pending disposition.
Laporte is about 24 miles south of Bemidji.