CANYON CITY – Austin Peter Rawlins, one of two defendants charged with abuse of cattle at remote Flag Prairie last year, has pleaded guilty to 11 counts of first-degree animal abuse.
Rawlins appeared in Grant County Circuit Court on Monday afternoon to change his plea to guilty on those counts, and accept a plea agreement that should resolve the case.
Each of the 11 counts stems from the death of one of his herd of animals left to overwinter in 2011-12 on the remote forest area in southeastern Grant County.
Defense attorney Markku Sario said the Alford-style plea deal acknowledges that the state would produce evidence that Rawlins acted recklessly in deciding to leave cattle at relatively high elevation in Flag Prairie, and failing to provide adequate feed or water.
Judge William D. Cramer Jr. accepted the pleas and set sentencing for Jan. 24.
District Attorney Ryan Joslin said the plea deal provides “a just and appropriate resolution” to the case.
Joslin said the sentence is up to the judge’s discretion, but the maximum penalty for the animal abuse crime, a Class A misdemeanor, is one year in jail with a $6,250 fine.
As part of the deal, Rawlins has agreed to pay $2,743.37 in restitution to the Grant County Sheriff’s Office for costs in the cattle rescue and seizure, and some veterinary fees.
Rawlins had been charged with 84 counts in connection with the fateful decision to leave his cows up on Flag Prairie. The other counts, which included felony aggravated animal abuse and misdemeanor animal neglect charges, will be dismissed.
In addition, Joslin said he will ask for the related case against Rawlins’ father, Canyon City ranch owner Peter Rawlins, to be dismissed.
Joslin said a key difference in the two cases was that Austin Rawlins, as owner of the cattle, had the authority to make decisions about them. The burden of proof would be more difficult for someone who didn’t own the cows and thus had no authority to make decisions regarding them, beyond giving advice to Rawlins.
The plight of the cattle sparked outrage in the ranching community, and ranchers staged a hay drive to ferry feed to the animals. Several ranchers and the local snowmobile club worked with the sheriff’s office to move the surviving cows out of the area.
Joslin said any ranchers who have concerns or questions about the plea deal could contact him.
He lauded those who raised the alarm about the cattle, even as they worried that the situation would reflect poorly on stock growers. He said the Flag Prairie incident was an anomaly.
“It doesn’t mean that this kind of thing represents the practices in this county. Frankly, the fact that the ranching community came forward shows quite the opposite,” he said. “Grant County has excellent ranching practices, and they treat their animals with respect.”Read more on bluemountaineagle.com.