Columbia County paid $210K in settlement cash to cattle rancher
When Columbia County and Oregon Humane Society teamed up to rescue a large herd of cattle from a Scappoose rancher, they didn't anticipate a five-year legal saga.
A settlement agreement shows Columbia County paid $210,000 in May 2017 to a cattle company owner whose cattle were seized by the county and OHS in 2012.
After removing 170 cows in 2012 from three different properties in Columbia County belonging to Bill Holdner and Jane Baum, Holdner and Baum were charged with animal cruelty and neglect. Holdner was eventually found guilty of 95 misdemeanor counts of animal neglect following a 2014 jury trial. Baum was convicted of 27 counts of neglect and agreed to forfeit those same 27 cows. Holdner was ordered to pay $91,000 and Baum was charged $16,300.
County animal control officials and OHS investigators claimed Holdner and Baum's cattle were underfed and lacked a proper water source, but follow-up evaluations from veterinarians and OHS reported the breeding cows were in worse shape after being in the county and OHS' care.
Veterinarian reports and reports from OHS investigators indicated the herd was placed on a 45-acre property without shade or a proper food source, after being taken from their owners. Several of the cows developed pink eye and reports note the cattle did not receive medical attention until weeks after they were seized.
In 2015, a few months after the animal neglect trial, Baum filed a motion with the court to give the rest of the cattle not forfeited in the criminal case back to her — or else compensate her for their monetary value. Columbia Circuit Judge Ted Grove ordered the county to return the cattle and any offspring born since the initial seizure in 2012, court records show.
That never happened. After a series of mishaps that began almost immediately after the cows were seized, many of the cattle had either died of starvation or were unaccounted for after being transferred from three different properties and shuffled between at least two different caretakers — including Isley Farms on Sauvie Island.
At one point, some of the cows were intercepted at a cattle auction in Madras after being in the care of The Nevis Corporation, before the county had legal rights to sell or transfer the cattle.
Baum filed suit against the county and OHS in 2015 for $727,000 after receiving no cattle or compensation from the county.
"On July 3, 2014, Gilliam County Deputy Jon Terland determined that, of the cattle fostered to Isley Farms, LLC, as many as 40-50 head died of starvation," Baum's legal complaint against Columbia County and OHS states. "During Baum's criminal trial, agents for Columbia County and the Oregon Humane Society testified that they could not locate and did not know what had happened to the cattle under the foster agreement with Isley Farms, LLC."
Despite the settlement, Baum continues to assert Columbia County and OHS were at the helm of the cattle seizure mismanagement, resulting in lost cattle and animal death and disease.
"I think it's just awful," Baum said earlier this week. "The fact that the Humane Society and the county took those animals, did not keep track of them and let them die, is unconscionable."
Columbia County Commissioner Henry Heimuller, the only remaining commissioner from when the cattle were seized in 2012, said even in light of the county's six-figure settlement, he continues to believe the involved agencies acted in the best interest of the herd's welfare.
"Looking back, I feel we took a whole bunch of cattle that were clearly not being cared for out of the hands of someone who was not taking care of them," Heimuller said. "I think it was all for the right reasons, still to this day."
OHS declined comment on this story.
— Darryl Swan contributed to this story.