A woman was convicted of three counts of felony animal cruelty on July 7 for willfully allowing three horses to starve to death on her southwest Riverside County property.
Animal Services officers served a search warrant on the Winchester property in December 2018 and discovered three dead horses in a barn area. Necropsies performed on the horses concluded that the likely cause of death was a lack of proper nutrition.
Sgt. Huennekens described the bodies of the horses as emaciated. Two of the three were a specialized breed called Pony of the Americas. One of the ponies was a mare and the other a gelding. The third horse, a gelding, was an unknown breed.
The officers also checked the property for any livestock feed but discovered there wasn’t any proper feed for horses at the property, according to Sgt. Huennekens.
“The conditions of the horses and the barn where they were being kept were deplorable,” Sgt. Huennekens said at the time.
On July 7, Gizelle Russell, 53, pleaded guilty to all three counts. A judge sentenced her to 48 months formal probation. She was sentenced to 270 hours of work release (community service), but the court authorized home detention in lieu of work release, according to John Welsh of the Riverside County Department of Animal Services.
One of the several terms of probation is that she cannot own, keep or possess any animals during the entire term of probation.
he following video features the lead officer on this case and photos from the case. Warning: some images are graphic.
The investigation was an ongoing back-and-forth matter for more than a year. Sgt. Lesley Huennekens described it as an extreme case of babysitting because Russell was not feeding the animals properly. Sometimes she would get the animals food, but the neglect continued.
Ultimately, before a seizure warrant was obtained, Russell agreed to transfer the horses to someone she knew. Somehow the horses ended up back on her property on Van Gaale Lane, just east of Winchester Road.
“She did everything she could to conceal she had horses again,” Sgt. Huennekens said. “She used tarp covers, so anyone driving by would not see the horses.”
A tipster eventually called Animal Services when they saw one of the three horses. By then, two were already dead and the third was so far gone it didn’t survive when officers arrived with a search warrant.
- Living conditions of the horses: RivCo Department of Animal Services
- Dead horse: Riverside Ccounty Department of Animal Services