GOLIAD TEXAS - A PERFECT STORM OF CIRCUMSTANCES AND ANIMAL EXTREMISM
Something happened in Texas early this summer that everyone needs to know about. Like the story of Gary Dassinger and Dassinger Ranch in North Dakota, what happened in Goliad, Texas was another perfect storm of circumstances that made a family vulnerable and a target of animal extremist predators. Thankfully, like the Dassinger’s, this story has a positive ending, but that doesn’t mean livestock producers across the country shouldn’t wake up and pay attention.
A Detailed Story with an Interesting Cast of Characters
This article will cover the events that happened in Goliad County, Texas and how a group of people got together in an attempt to steal cattle and money from a dead man and the people he willed them to. The story is detailed and involves a cast of characters and unusual circumstances that is almost stranger than fiction:
- An animal extremist reality television character who works for the City of Houston, over 150 miles away. He has clearly stated on television that he believes he has the right to visit cattle ranches in Texas and confiscate cattle if ranchers don’t do what he wants.
- A community and family feud over the ownership of land and cattle contesting the Last Will and Testament of the deceased owner.
- A reprimanded and unseated county judge who slipped into a spot as a justice of the peace after losing an election.
- Overstepping of official duties.
- Concealment of planned “legal” action from the county sheriff’s department and county judge.
- A young constable who appears to have been manipulated into setting forth actions without understanding the ramifications and impact on members of her community. Her co-worker, another constable for the county in Precinct 2, is related to family members who are contesting the will of the deceased owner.
Arctic Storm and Drought Impact the Condition of Cattle Across Texas
Goliad, Texas is a small county of a little over 7,000 people. It is located 155 miles southwest of Houston. Like many areas of the South and Midwest, it was hit by the 100-year arctic storm at the beginning of 2021. This storm was hard on farmers and ranchers and their livestock. The arctic storm stressed the budgets of many – requiring the purchase of more feed and dealing with frozen water sources as well as repairs to water systems, fencing, facilities, and equipment. The extreme weather was hardest on the animals who were not acclimated to the conditions that lasted over 10 days. The impact of the storm meant the loss of livestock for some, and increased expenses for most.
Next, spring brought a drought to the area which impacted every livestock producer in Goliad County as well as nearby counties. Already stressed livestock from the winter storm were then out on grazing land that was not getting enough rain to grow feed. Once again, livestock owners were feeding their animals and providing additional supplementation, another hit to already stretched budgets. On the Franke Ranch several cows were humanely euthanized due to their inability to handle the arctic storm. One cow was humanely euthanized due to complications after calving. Humanely euthanize animals is a part of farming and ranching and can happen in the best of circumstances when considering the age of some of the cows and risks of calving.
Loose Cattle, Small Town Politics, Death and a Family Feud
Darrell Franke was a farmer and rancher in Goliad for over 50 years who raised cattle and hay. He did this with the help of the Padilla family who worked for him for more than three decades. The cattle on the Franke ranch were owned in partnership with Franke and the Padilla family. Some were owned by Franke and a family member.
Anyone who deals with livestock knows that cattle can get out despite having good fences and plenty of feed. In times of drought, the adage of, “the grass is greener on the other side of the fence” can certainly hold true. Cattle are more apt to break through fencing looking for fresh forage in years of hard weather and drought. In fact, if you look up loose livestock reports in counties across Texas, you’ll find that it isn’t unusual for county agencies to receive numerous calls about loose livestock on a monthly basis.
Darrell Franke was a loved and respected member of his community, and yet there were some issues that had occurred over the years with the owners of the neighboring property and loose cattle.
In January of 2021, Darrell Franke passed away at the age of 81. His legal will left his ownership of the cattle and property to the Padilla family. Despite the Padilla family working for Darrell Franke for over thirty years and partnering with him on cattle, some family members contested Franke’s will. In addition to family members contesting the will and ownership of the cattle, a local banker also made a claim on some of the cattle. They were listed as collateral for a loan made to Franke to cover farm and ranch expenses. There were three brands on these cattle: Franke’s brand, the Padilla family brand, and a brand representing Franke and his sister.
It is important to note that the neighbor was a Goliad County constable and related to Franke’s children who were contesting the Will.
Therefore, it isn’t out of bounds to consider that there were ulterior motives at play with what happened next.
Despite the Franke Will Being Contested, and the Ownership of the Livestock in Question, the Padilla Family Continued to Care for the Cattle
Franke passed away in January of 2021. After his passing, Mr. Padilla went to work in the oil fields in west Texas. In mid-February of 2021, the unprecedented arctic storm hit the South and Midwest. Despite the contest of Franke’s Will, the harsh, inclement weather, and the drought in the spring, the Padilla family continued to care for the cattle. They fixed fences, purchased hay and supplements, and hauled water. Due to the will being contested, the Padillas were unable to sell cattle to cover some of their expenses.
“Investigation” of Livestock Conducted by Out of Area Persons with an Agenda
On May 21st, an “investigation” of the Franke land and livestock occurred. This investigation was conducted primarily by people who did not and do not serve Goliad County. The investigation was triggered by a Goliad County Precinct 1 constable who had answered calls about cattle belonging to Franke being out. This Constable was out of her regular jurisdiction. She stepped in for the constable in charge of the area, Precinct 2 where the Franke Ranch resided, because her co-worker, was related to family members contesting Franke’s will.
The “investigation” included an evaluation of the cattle by a Houston Humane Society employee, a Brazoria County livestock deputy, two Goliad county constables (one which was related to the family members contesting Franke’s will), a Humane Society contract cowboy, and a DeWitt county deputy.
Dealing with loose livestock was part of the constable’s job and she routinely answered calls across the county regarding loose cattle. Unfortunately, it appears she was influenced by her coworker and out of area people with connections to the animal extremist reality television “investigator” from the Houston Humane Society.
It is important to note that this Houston Humane Society “Investigator” was employed by the City of Houston, 155 miles away. He was not employed by Goliad County. Despite what he claimed on a television interview about this case, that he has “no boundaries” and that he will show up at ranches in the area, this City of Houston employee does not have any jurisdiction in Goliad County.
The Houston Humane Society website makes this clear. The website states:
“While many situations break our heart and we would like to remove the animal from the owner/situation, the Houston Humane Society as a non-profit organization does not have the right to do so.
Law enforcement can only act on what the law allows.”
“The Houston Humane Society is not an Animal Control Agency.”
Others involved in the “investigation” were a Livestock Deputy from Brazoria County, as well as a DeWitt County deputy with a license to operate a drone. Both deputies were also working out of their jurisdiction. It is also important to note that a warrant to use a drone to fly over pastures was never applied for. Additionally, the DeWitt County deputy who operated the drone, flew the drone over the pastures without asking if a warrant was obtained.
Lean Livestock and A Few Cow Carcasses
The “investigation” found lean cows. This finding is not unexpected considering the weather conditions over the previous months: the arctic storm and the spring drought. In fact, other ranchers in the county and surrounding counties had livestock in the same condition as the Franke cattle.
The Dewitt County deputy, conducted a drone survey over the properties and found some cow carcasses. It was estimated that the cows had died 45-60 days earlier. Death of a small percentage of livestock in a cow-calf operation is not uncommon. Cattle can die for a variety of reasons including bloat, eating a poisonous plant, complications during the calving process, or simply from old age. Depending on the circumstances, humane euthanasia when necessary is also a common practice.
Finding a carcass on grazing land in Texas amongst a large number of livestock, is not an indication of willfully committing a crime of cruelty, abuse or neglect. In no way should lean cattle in the same condition as found on other ranches, a small percentage of losses, and three carcasses trigger a seizure warrant. Texas law allows for decomposition of dead livestock, depending on the location of the death of the animal and the grazing area.
Decomposition of carcasses is a common practice.
Administrative Code – Title 4 Agriculture, Chapter 59.12 states:
Section 59.12 – Carcass Disposal Requirements
8) Decomposition. Animals that die on private or state rangeland from causes other than significant infections or contagious diseases or agents may be left to decompose naturally provided their location is not in violation of another legal requirement.
Warrant for Seizure Submitted to Justice of the Peace
After the “investigation” was conducted by out of jurisdiction individuals, the constable approached a county justice of the peace to request a warrant for seizure. As mentioned earlier, this request for seizure of property was not her jurisdiction but the other constable who was related to the late Mr. Franke.
A constable in the county is permitted to obtain a warrant to impound cruelly treated animals; however, the animals were not treated cruelly as food and water were provided to them. In court, the Padilla family provided receipts and evidence that the animals received continual care.
In Texas cruelly treated livestock animals are defined as follows – Texas Penal Code Sec 42.09:
(a) A person commits an offense if the person intentionally or knowingly:
(1) tortures a livestock animal;
(2) fails unreasonably to provide necessary food, water, or care for a livestock animal in the person’s custody;
(3) abandons unreasonably a livestock animal in the person’s custody;
(4) transports or confines a livestock animal in a cruel and unusual manner;
(b) In this section:
(1) “Abandon” includes abandoning a livestock animal in the person’s custody without making reasonable arrangements for assumption of custody by another person.
(2) “Cruel manner” includes a manner that causes or permits unjustified or unwarranted pain or suffering.
(3) “Custody” includes responsibility for the health, safety, and welfare of a livestock animal subject to (c) An offense under Subsection (a)(2), (3), (4), or (9) is a Class A misdemeanor, except that the offense is a state jail felony if the person has previously been convicted two times under this section, the person’s care and control, regardless of ownership of the livestock animal.
Justice of the Peace in Texas Counties
The jurisdiction of the justice of the peace must also be considered in this case. In Texas just about anyone can become a Justice of the Peace. The qualifications are as follows:
• Must be a United States Citizen
• Must be a resident of Texas for at least 12 consecutive months
• Must be registered to vote in the precinct
• Must be 18 years of age
• Must not have been finally convicted of a felony from which they have not been pardoned or otherwise released from the resulting disabilities
• Not have been determined by a court with probate jurisdiction to be totally mentally incapacitate or partially mentally incapacitated without the right to vote
Cattle Were Rounded Up and Taken to Undisclosed Location by City of Houston Employee
This story gets more outrageous as it unfolds. After the seizure order was signed by a Goliad county justice of the peace, it was executed from May 25th to 28th. The contract cowboys gathered cattle over several parcels of land. The cattle were then removed per the seizure order signed by the justice of the peace. The order stated that the cattle were to be placed into the custody of the Goliad County Precinct 1 Constable’s Office or the Houston Humane Society. The cattle were placed into the custody of the City of Houston employee, and he moved them out of the area and refused to disclose their location.
If the cattle were in such poor condition, why were they moved?
The stress of gathering, separating and shipping cattle out of the area would be extremely detrimental to cattle in the shape they claimed these cows were in. Additionally, numerous nursing calves were separated from their mothers by the out of area group that seized the cattle.
Guilty Until Proven Innocent and Owners Have to Pay Exorbitant Fees Up Front
As in so many animal seizure cases, owners are often penalized and assumed guilty first prior to legal decisions in court. In these cases, the animals are seized and taken into custody. That is when the board and care fees start to accumulate at premium prices. Rescue groups who take custody of these animals, also lose no time in pushing fundraising campaigns off the animals. These groups are double-dipping by charging the owners exorbitant fees along with collecting thousands of dollars in donations from the public who do not have firsthand knowledge of the animals and owners. Often, the animal owners cannot afford to pay the fees and so the animals are relinquished without any legal judgment having been determined. When this happens, it is often the group that further cashes in by selling the animals and keeping the proceeds or charging expensive adoption fees and keeping those monies. All of this adds up to animal seizures being big business for these types of groups. Everyone involved benefits financially, from the expenses and fees to seize and evaluate the animals, to the boarding and selling fees.
It is very clear this system puts the animal owners at distinct disadvantage, meanwhile providing nothing but benefits to the organizations that are nefariously brought in as “experts.” The bottom line is they are significantly financially incentivized to find fault with the care and condition of the animals they are “investigating.” In the case of the Franke cattle, a bond of $73,000 was demanded for 15 days of care. Additional fees would be added after the 15-day period. The out of area veterinarian charged $12,000 to examine approximately 140 head. The out of area cowboys contracted by the Humane Society of Houston took three days and charged $24,000 to gather and haul the cattle. Instantly, the Padillas were saddled with over $100,000 in fees. The Padilla family could not afford this bond or additional fees.
Proper Legal Process Ignored – County Judge and County Sheriff Were Not Informed
In the case of a seizure order, the owner of the animals is to be given proper prior notice if there are concerns about their condition. In the case of the Franke livestock, the original owner was deceased, and the Padilla family’s ownership of the livestock and land was being contested in probate.
The Padilla family was not the official owner of the livestock because the ownership was in question due to probate. They also did not receive proper notification that there were issues. Instead, claims were made that they had received “verbal warnings” about their cattle being out.
The sheriff’s department was fully circumvented in this case. The county sheriff was not notified of the perceived animal welfare issues, nor was he informed that a seizure order was requested and awarded. When questioned, the constable’s reason was that she, “did not want to bother the Sheriff.”
In Texas, the sheriff receives reports of impound and can sell or return animals according to the Estray Animals Act. According to Texas law, the county sheriff has animal control authority:
Sec. 822.001. DEFINITIONS. In this subchapter:
(1) "Animal control authority" means a municipal or county animal control office with authority over the area or the county sheriff in an area that does not have an animal control office.
According to the Guide for Texas Laws for County Officials Handbook a county sheriff:
• Is the chief law enforcement officer for the county and is responsible for operating the county jails investigating crimes, enforcing judgments and maintaining communications with other law enforcement organizations
• Has duties regarding the seizure of property for payments of debts and notice thereof
• May apply to justice court for a warrant to seize animals being treated cruelly
• May seize and impound animals and notify owner, give proper notice and sell impounded animals at public auction
After reviewing the duties of a county sheriff in the state of Texas, and noting that they are in charge of animal control in smaller counties like Goliad, which do not have an official department, one has to ask why the sheriff was not notified of the seizure at all. The sheriff was also not notified of the “investigation” that took place prior to the seizure by officers from other counties and an employee of the City of Houston, who were clearly out of their jurisdiction.
Why wasn’t the sheriff notified of either of these activities?
County Judge Mike Bennett of Goliad County was not informed either. He had no idea a seizure was happening in his county until he was contacted by other concerned ranchers. According the to the txcourts.gov website, the following is the jurisdiction of the County Judge:
“The district courts are the trial courts of general jurisdiction of Texas. The geographical area served by each court is established by the Legislature, but each county must be served by at least one district court. In sparsely populated areas of the State, several counties may be served by a single district court, while an urban county may be served by many district courts.
District courts have original jurisdiction in felony criminal cases, divorce cases, cases involving title to land, election contest cases, civil matters in which the amount of money or damages involved is $200 or more, and any matters in which jurisdiction is not placed in another trial court. While most district courts try both criminal and civil cases, in the more densely populated counties the courts may specialize in civil, criminal, juvenile, or family law matters.”
“The legal jurisdiction of the special county-level trial courts varies considerably and is established by the statute which creates the particular court. The jurisdiction of statutorily-created county courts at law may be concurrent with the jurisdiction of the county and district courts in the county.
The civil jurisdiction of most county courts at law varies but is usually more than that of the justice of the peace courts and less than that of the district courts. County courts at law usually have appellate jurisdiction in cases appealed from justice of the peace and municipal courts.”
Why was the county judge not informed?
Local Ranchers and County Judge Step In
When County Judge Mike Bennett learned of the seizure of cattle in his jurisdiction, he arrived at the property along with other concerned ranchers to ascertain what was happening and to prevent the seizure. Judge Bennett informed the constable who was assisting with the seizure that a written notice was required before a seizure could take place. Understandably, Judge Bennett was highly concerned that neither the county court, nor the county sheriff was aware of the seizure being ordered by an out of precinct justice of the peace or that it was being executed by the constables from Precincts 1 and 2 and others from out of area.
June 3rd Hearing
A hearing was set for June 3rd and presided over by Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace Pat Calhoun. This was interesting in itself because Pat Calhoun had previously served as County Judge in Goliad County. During his tenure as county judge, according to an article in the Victoria Advocate, Calhoun had, “visited Austin to answer to the State commission on Judicial Conduct, which investigates misconduct by judges in Texas.” This was not the first such incident of a complaint. The article goes on to provide information about other complaints made against the judge by County Treasurer Daphne Buelter, and Precinct 3 Commissioner Mickey White. It is important to note that Pat Calhoun was not re-elected as county judge, but somehow managed to secure a position as a justice of the peace despite having a “reputation,” according to the article.
Justice of the Peace, Pat Calhoun, disagreed with the body condition reported by the Humane Society of Houston employee and their appointed veterinarian. However, the carcasses of the cows prompted him to deem that the Padillas had committed an act of animal cruelty and ruled the cattle were to be sold at auction.
The Padillas were required to put up a bond of approximately $73,000 in order to appeal the decision.
Ranching Community Rallies Together
When news reached other ranchers in the area of the seizure of cattle from a dead man’s estate and the involvement of people from out of area, they decided to take action. They were especially concerned about the statements made by the City of Houston Humane Society “Investigator” from over 150 miles away. They were also alarmed by the process in which such a large seizure could take place based on the opinions of those who stood to benefit from the seizure of the livestock and without the county sheriff and county court judge being involved.
They disagreed with the opinion that the cattle were cruelly treated and believed the cattle were in a typical condition for livestock that had been through a historic winter storm and following drought. The ranchers realized that this could have happened to any one of them and they were not going to sit quiet.
An anonymous donor generously paid the $73,000 bond so the Padilla family could appeal the ruling and keep the cattle from being sold or destroyed. The ranchers also knew that the family was not able to afford to hire a good attorney, so they raised funds to cover those costs. Local citizens, local ranchers and ranchers from surrounding counties raised all the funds needed to hire a lawyer to represent the Padilla family in the cattle seizure case as well as funds needed for the second probate case. Funds were also raised to pay for additional feed and hay.
Issue with the County Judge, Appeal and Victory
On June 15th, Goliad County Attorney Rob Baiamonte, representing Goliad County Precinct 1 Constable, Ellie Ramirez, submitted a motion to recuse Judge Mike Bennett from residing over the Padilla appeal and submitted it to the Padilla family’s attorney. On June 21st, Judge Bennett signed the Recusal Order with the following notation: “In the interest of time, I voluntarily recuse myself from this case. I do not agree with the allegations in the attached motion”.
Judge Walden Shelton presided over the Padilla’s appeal. According to an article in Agrilife.org the Padillas, “made several arguments, including the claim that the warrant to impound the cattle was improper as it was based on evidence gathered by use of a drone, without warrant or statutory authorization.”
According to an article in MorningAgClips.com, Joe Glenn Kahla, the attorney representing the Padilla family, “was able to get the constable to admit she never applied for a warrant and using the drone didn’t fall into the purposes set out in statute for use of drone footage. Once that was admitted, he moved the judge to dismiss.”
Judge Shelton dismissed the case and ordered for the cattle to be returned. He also ordered that the bond fee was to be returned.
Ranching Community is Providing Continuing Support and Is Taking Proactive Steps
When the cattle were returned to the Padilla family’s care, ranching families in the area stepped up again to help process them. They offered round bales and other help to the Padilla family. Over the weekend of September 12th, the community held a benefit BBQ to raise further funds for the Padilla family.
The probate hearing was moved to February of 2022, so the Padilla family will still need to feed and care for the Franke Estate cattle until the will is settled. Of note, the Franke family members who are contesting the will have retained their attorney on contingency. Therefore, they have no out of pocket costs for attorney’s fees. Their attorney will receive a percentage payment from the proceeds of the estate if they are able to successfully contest the will and obtain ownership.
In addition to providing assistance once the cattle were returned, local ranchers decided to take proactive steps to ensure this would never happen again in their community.
They are forming a 501c3 animal welfare group and have named their organization: Goliad County Livestock Coalition (GCLC). At their first meeting 60-70 ranchers in the area showed up.
The group has created an interlocal contract between Goliad County and the Goliad County Livestock Coalition. It introduces a workflow between the coalition and the Goliad County Sheriff’s Office.
The purpose of the contract is to prevent cruelty to hooved animals and see that they are humanely treated. The contract states that Goliad County Sheriff’s Office will utilize the expertise of GCLC to assess concerns about the treatment of hooved livestock.
Other points outlined by the contract are:
- The Sheriff agrees to have a deputy trained and certified as a livestock inspector. This person will be referred to as “livestock deputy.”
- Once the Sheriff’s office receives notice of hooved animals being treated cruelly, they must contact GCCLC for an assessment of the animals.
- GCLC will access the animals within 7 days of notification from the Sheriff. The livestock deputy and GCLC team lead will obtain written permission for the owner or caregiver to enter the property to conduct an assessment.
- The GCLC assessment team will determine if a plan needs to be formed and review the plan with the owner or caregiver of the animals.
- If the owner or caregiver agrees with the plan, GCLC will monitor the progress of the plan for one year, making at least four evaluations on the progress.
- Consideration for stocking rates will be applied and if necessary, an adjustment plan will be implemented.
- If a stocking reduction is needed GCLC may provide manpower and equipment to transport animals to an auction barn, at no expense to the owner or caregiver. All proceeds will go to the owner.
- The Sheriff shall request help from GCLC first. In the event a seizure warrant is issued, the animals will be either seized in place or cared for at the Goliad County Fairgrounds holding pens. GCLC shall provide feed for the animals until the seizure hearing has been determined.
- If the court orders the seized animals to be sold at auction, the GCLC can request payment or reimbursement as provided for under the law for the feeding and care of the animals.
Wise Words and Smart Plans
Jim Bradbury, Texas & Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association attorney is quoted in a MorningAgClips.com article about this case. He urged cattlemen to take note, even if they think it could never happen to them and stated, “This wasn’t just a case of a family dispute and local politics coming together. Something larger was at play, and that’s the policy goal of organizations seeking to end animal agriculture and our way of life.”
We agree with Mr. Bradbury.
Most importantly, we are proud of all the local ranchers in the Goliad County, Texas area who have stepped up to assist the Padilla family and to ensure this cannot happen again to ranchers in their community.
Documents - Documents on Authorities in Texas Courts
2018 Guide to Laws HERE
Texas Courts - Archived Documents HERE
Hawks Eye Consulting - Opinion Can Texas Justice of the Peace Issue Warrants at Any Level HERE
County Courts in Texas
Texas Courts Webstie - About Texas Courts - Trial Courts HERE
Texas Constitution HERE
Rules of Court for Goliad County Texas HERE
Texas - Jurisdiction of Municipal Court
Title 1 Code of Criminal Procedure HERE
Texas - Qualifications for Texas Justice of the Peace
About Texas County Officials HERE
Texas Penal Code
Cruelty to Livestock Animals HERE
Texas - Drone Laws
Unmanned Air Vehicle Coach article - HERE
Texas.gov statutes HERE
Texas - Decomposition of Livestock
Title 4 Agriculutre - Part 2 Texas Animal Health HERE
Texas- Health and Safety of Animals
Texas Title 10 HERE
Texas Counties - Animal Control Booklet HERE
Article - What Happens When You Are Accused of Animal Cruelty in Texas HERE
Houston Humane Society Mission HERE
Links: Additional Articles
Article in Victoria Advocate About Judge Pat Calhoun HERE
Article in Morning Ag Clips HERE
Article in the Odessa American HERE