The wheels of justice are slow but they do turn: A year and a half after felony animal cruelty charges were brought against former Guilford County Animal Shelter Director Marsha Williams, the case is finally ready to move forward.
It’s doing so with an interesting opening act – a motion by Williams’ attorney that claims Davidson County is racially targeting Williams.
In addition to running the Guilford County Animal Shelter, in 2015 Williams was also the director of the Davidson County Animal Shelter, the county where District Attorney Garry Frank filed a felony charge of animal cruelty against Williams.
Frank said this week that he expects Williams’ trial to take place next month, but he added that High Point Attorney Duane Bryant, who’s representing Williams, had filed a motion arguing that the case shouldn’t proceed at all.
Bryant’s motion filed in Davidson County Superior Court states that Davidson County is engaged in “selective prosecution” of his client based on racial grounds. Williams and two other former Davidson County Animal Shelter workers now being prosecuted for animal cruelty are all black, and Bryant’s motion states that white shelter workers in circumstances similar to Williams’ weren’t being prosecuted.
Frank said he didn’t want to comment on Bryant’s claims, but he did say he expects Williams’ case to be heard in May after these and other issues are addressed in preliminary hearings.
Williams was director of the Guilford County Animal Shelter and the Davidson County Animal Shelter two years ago when those shelters were run by the United Animal Coalition (UAC), a nonprofit driven out of existence by scandals at both shelters.
In mid-August of 2015, animal cruelty investigators with the State of North Carolina found evidence of widespread animal neglect and cruelty at the two shelters. The Animal Welfare Division of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services revoked the UAC’s operating license and later hit the group with a $300,000 fine.
Though Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes expressed a strong desire for Guilford County to prosecute Williams on some of the worst offenses found, Guilford County District Attorney Doug Henderson said there wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute Williams for her actions at the Guilford County shelter.
In Davidson County, on the other hand, Frank did file felony charges against Williams and two of her staff – Dana Williams (Marsha Williams’ daughter) and Marissa Studivent. Those charges stem from the treatment of a dog named “Nana.” The three former shelter employees are facing felony cruelty animal charges that allege they “tortured” Nana through neglect.
Nana, apparently hit by a car, was severely injured and taken to the Davidson County shelter. The dog, which was reported to have had a broken back and other severe ailments, was allegedly left in its cage for three days without proper medical care or pain relief before it was euthanized.
Bryant’s legal brief, however, stated that the actions of Williams and the other two women charged didn’t differ from the actions of other shelter workers.
Bryant didn’t return phone calls from the Rhino Times this week, but his motion states that several other individuals who were “non-African Americans” weren’t charged with similar offences though their actions – or inaction – was essentially the same.
That motion names other administrators and vet techs at the Davidson County shelter who were present with Nana during those three days.
Bryant’s selective prosecution motion also states that UAC board members, responsible for overseeing the shelter’s operations, weren’t charged with any crime.
“No UAC member was charged or placed in jeopardy in any way.” Bryant’s motion states (bold type his). A footnote to that point adds, “All persons that are UAC Board members are non-African-American.”
The motion also states that those who operated the Davidson County shelter before the UAC took over operations were not charged with crimes even though there were allegations of abuse and poor management at that time as well.
“The facility was controlled and operated by Caucasian persons,” it reads. “No member of the former Davidson County Animal Shelter (pre UAC) administration was ever charged, prosecuted or placed in jeopardy in any way. Moreover, no member of the current UAC board, or even the individuals who were in charge of Nana have been charged. To prosecute Defendant to the exclusion of others constitutes selective prosecution and discriminatory enforcement.”
That motion states that the charges constitute “intentional discriminatory law enforcement” in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, as well as in violation of the Fifth Amendment of the North Carolina Constitution.
Frank said this week that there had been other issues in the case as well that were drawing it out.
“We’re slugging it out with some negotiations,” said the Davidson County prosecutor. “We would like to have moved it along faster, but another aspect that I can’t discuss came up.”
He said Davidson County Assistant District Attorney Ina Stanton is the prosecutor handling the case.
Frank added that his office plans to try the three cases separately, with Williams’ case being heard first.
Frank also said that his office had been busy dealing with five or six murder cases recently, one of which was a high-profile case with an international element. An Irishman was allegedly murdered by his wife and her father, and that’s been a complex affair with a custody battle tied in and a lot of media attention.
Initially, additional charges were filed against Williams for mishandling of drugs at the Davidson County Animal Shelter but those charges were dropped last year.
Though Williams’ attorney didn’t return voicemail messages left by the Rhino Times this week, he did make accusations of unfair prosecution in late 2015 and he spoke with the Rhino then.
In November 2015, Bryant stated that there appeared to be major racial and political motivations in this case, though at that time he was largely talking about what was happening in Guilford County.
In late 2015, Barnes demonstrated that he was determined to see Williams prosecuted even after Henderson decided not to bring charges.
Bryant said it was a “highly politicized” case because Barnes held a press conference with Ann McCrory, the wife of then Gov. Pat McCrory, at which Barnes called for the prosecution of Williams. Bryant said it was extremely inappropriate of Barnes to get the governor and his wife involved in the case.
Bryant said in 2015 that his client was unfairly the recipient of a great deal of public anger due to people’s love of animals and the strong emotions at play in this case, combined with a failure to understand what really transpired.
“This has been very difficult for her,” Bryant said then of the accusations. “She reads articles in the press criticizing her for what is a very difficult job. I don’t know if anyone can imagine the amount of pressure that comes with running a shelter. It’s not an easy job.”