FRONT ROYAL – A Warren County couple accused of keeping their children and animals in unhealthy conditions plan to enter plea deals Monday.
An attorney for Brian Wayne and Wendy Ellen Tenney had filed a motion in Warren County Circuit Court to suppress all evidence seized from their home at 63 Limeton Church Road in Bentonville. A judge had scheduled a hearing on the motion in the court for May 6 but the Tenneys’ lawyer, Tate C. Love, and Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Anna Hammond advised the court that the parties had reached a plea agreement. The judge scheduled a hearing on the plea agreement for Monday.
Details of the plea agreement were not available Thursday. Hammond said by email Thursday that no plea agreement had been filed with the court. Love was unavailable for comment on the case and co-counsel Brittany Shipley deferred to the lead attorney. Hammond also said she would not comment on a pending case.
But the Tenneys’ attorney had been prepared to argue that law enforcement did not have probable cause to search the couple’s property, and thus improperly took items from their home on Sept. 12 as evidence in the case. Authorities subsequently charged the Tenneys with multiple counts of child endangerment and animal cruelty.
“Any evidence found in the Tenney residence should be suppressed as fruit of the poisonous tree, because the Tenneys and their property were unlawfully seized pending issuance of the search warrant,” Love states in the motion.
Warren County Sheriff’s Office deputy Laura Gomez appeared before a magistrate on Sept. 12 and asked for a warrant to search the Tenney’s property, including their residence, a detached shed, outbuildings, vehicles and curtilage, in relation to suspected offenses of animal cruelty, Love states in his motion.
Authorities only had probable cause to search the shed, the motion states.
Gomez sought to collect any living, unborn or deceased animals; items used for the care of animals and documents and records related to the care and treatment of animals. The affidavit Gomez submitted as her reasons for searching the property did not state where the shed or driveway was located in relation to the house.
An addendum was attached to the affidavit in support of probable cause needed to obtain the search warrant, Love states in his motion. Love questions different aspects of the search warrant including who prepared the addendum signed only by the magistrate.
“The addendum claims the preparer heard dogs barking from the shed,” the motion states. “The preparer observed Ms. Tenney ‘c(o)me outside,’ although it is not stated whether from the outbuildings, shed, or house.
“The preparer asked Ms. Tenney for permission to see the dogs,” the motion adds. “Ms. Tenney stated she let the dogs outside earlier but put them back in the shed because of the rain.”
The preparer saw a kitten with runny eyes and Wendy Tenney told her child to get the animal’s medication from her vehicle, the motion states. The preparer indicated she saw trash inside and outside of the shed. The addendum does not specify on what date the preparer made the observations, according to the motion. The preparer claims to have visited the property on multiple occasions and asked Ms. Tenney to address concerns for the welfare of the animals although the dates are not mentioned, the motion states.
Before Gomez left to obtain the search warrant, she and other law enforcement officers told the Tenneys and their children that they were being detained and that they needed to stay in the driveway, the motion states. Officers denied the Tenneys’ access not only to the shed but their home and vehicle. Mr. Tenney asked an officer why they were being detained and the officer replied that he did not have to tell Mr. Tenney anything, the motion states.
Based on the affidavit and the addendum, a magistrate issued a warrant to search the identified area for the requested items, according to the motion. Gomez returned to the property and executed the search warrant and, based on that evidence, charged the Tenneys with cruelty to animals and providing inadequate care.
But Love argues in the motion that the “observations in the addendum were not made by a credible source and were not sufficiently corroborated by Deputy Gomez.” Love reiterated that the addendum includes no indication of the preparer’s identity.
“The magistrate did not have a substantial basis to find that a search of the Tenney premises would uncover evidence of wrongdoing, because neither the affidavit nor the addendum stated when the observations were made by the preparer,” Love states.
The motion goes on to state that a magistrate did not have a substantial basis to find that a search of the Tenney residence would uncover evidence of wrongdoing, given that neither the affidavit nor the addendum contained evidence connecting the observations to the residence.
The search warrant is invalid because it didn’t limit the scope of the items to be seized to those connected with criminal activity, Love argues. The motion notes that, unlike weapons or drugs, animals and items related to their care are not inherently unlawful, so the warrant should have limited their seizure to those supporting a conviction of cruelty to, or inadequate care of animals. The warrant could have taken healthy, non-abused animals, clean pet carriers and “innocuous” veterinary records, the motion states.