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Owners of horses seized at Wheelon Stables sue BCSPCA

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By Iva Butler

Seven owners of horses seized last year at Wheelon Stables have sued the Blount County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and its officers Gino and Kellie Bachman in Blount County Circuit Court.
The suit, filed Monday by Maryville attorney Rob White, seeks compensatory damages of $600,000 and punitive damages of $1.5 million.

The suit was filed on behalf of plaintiffs Rebecca and William Andrews of Loudon County (Greenback); Rodney Koger of Thompsonville, Ky.; Bobbie Jo Koger of Tuckaleechee Pike, Maryville; Kenneth Smith of Kentucky; Dwight Brooks of Rogersville; and Joe Barnes of Pigeon Forge.

BCSPCA seized 19 horses in a raid at Larry Wheelon Stables in Maryville on April 25, 2013. Wheelon, 68, of Miracle Landing, Maryville, was charged with aggravated cruelty to animals for soring, the practice of using caustic chemicals and metal items like chains to make the front feet and legs of Tennessee walking horses sore, causing them to take higher steps know as the Big Lick.

That case was dismissed by Blount County General Sessions Court Judge Robert L. Headrick, who said the prosecution failed to prove there was probable cause to send the case to the grand jury.

Headrick also ordered the return of the 19 seized horses, which was completed Nov. 8, 2013.

BCSPCA then brought its accusations against Wheelon, two stable hands and a farrier up before a Blount County grand jury, which returned indictments against them.

Wheelon and stable hands Brandon Randall Lunsford, 32, Blair Loop Road, Walland, and Randall Stacy Gunter, 44, Ratledge Road, Louisville, now face 18 counts of aggravated cruelty to livestock and conspiracy to commit aggravated cruelty to livestock. Of those, 13 are felony charges and five are misdemeanors.

Farrier Blake Tanner Primm, 44, of Sevier County, faces one charge each of aggravated cruelty to livestock and conspiracy to commit aggravated cruelty to livestock.

This case is ongoing in Blount County Circuit Court. A status hearing is set on the case at 1:30 p.m. May 12 before Blount County Circuit Court Judge Tammy Harrington.

Neyland, a sorrel stallion belonging to Joe Barnes of Pigeon Forge, was one of the 19 horses seized at Larry Wheelon Stables. Neyland is pictured after his return to Maryville on Nov. 6. Barnes is one of the owners suing the Blount County Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals.

In their lawsuit, the horse owners charge the 19 horses were taken to a location unknown to them and missed an entire show season at which they would have been able to win prize money, maintain profits and become a profitable commodity. The owners also lost money from breeding the horses, according to the suit.

When the horses were returned, “it was apparent that they had been granted substandard care and were in poorer condition than when they were seized,” the suit says.

The owners also charged the horses will never be able to return to their previous show condition or be able to be shown again.

They declared the BCSPCA actions were “intentional, malicious and reckless and that as such punitive as well as compensatory damages should be awarded.”

The suit demands the case be heard by a jury.

Kellie Bachman, investigative coordinator for BCSPCA and a defendant in the lawsuit, said Tuesday she has not received a copy of the lawsuit.

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