(File photo) Christopher and Amanda Gusek are shown at the location where they raise cattle along Hurds Corner Road in Tuscola County's Dayton Township. The couple has sued Tuscola County and an animal control officer in federal court, alleging their constitutional rights were violated and claiming they're victims of malicious prosecution.

(File photo)
Christopher and Amanda Gusek are shown at the location where they raise cattle in Tuscola County’s Dayton Township. The pair faced felony charges of abandoning/cruelty to 10 or more animals, but a ruling by Tuscola County Circuit Judge Amy Grace Gierhart had led to dismissal of the charges, which carried a maximum sentence of four years in prison.

Charges have been dismissed against a Dayton Township couple accused of abandoning or being cruel to 10 or more cattle – a felony carrying a maximum sentence of four years in prison.

Tuscola County District Judge Kim David Glaspie had bound over Christopher and Amanda Gusek to stand trial on the charge in circuit court. But Circuit Judge Amy Grace Gierhart on April 4 overruled Glaspie, determining there was insufficient evidence to order the couple to stand trial.

Prosecutors allege Christopher Gusek, 44, and Amanda Gusek, 33 – the former Dayton Township clerk – kept about 12 cattle penned in outdoors, unprotected from the elements, from May into June of 2017.

But Gierhart, according to a transcript of the April 4 court proceeding, found no evidence was presented to show the animals weren’t in good health. Gierhart called the testimony of prosecution witness Dr. Robert Hassler, a veterinarian, “speculative at best.” Hassler testified in district court during a preliminary exam for Christopher Gusek. Prosecutors, summarizing Hassler’s testimony, said the veterinarian noted “extreme weather can cause stress for the animals” that lack shelter, and harm them.

Defense lawyers have noted that although Hassler viewed a photo of the penned-in animals, he didn’t examine the cattle.

Judge Gierhart noted Hassler “had not touched them, had not seen them, had not been to the property to observe the area that was complained of, and his opinion basically relied on the temperature concerns as it relates to the animal being able to maintain a proper temperature given wind, weather, other types of concerns.”

Gierhart stressed, however, that there was no evidence that outdoor temperatures would have affected the health of the animals from May into June of 2017 – the time period that prosecutors allege Christopher and Amanda Gusek abandoned the animals or were cruel to them.

Dr. Katelyn Briggs, a veterinarian from Thumb Veterinary Services in Sandusky, testified at Christopher Gusek’s preliminary exam that she visited the Guseks’ cattle in August of 2017 and that “All the cattle were well fed, they all had good body condition scores.”

Gierhart said Briggs “did have hands on one of the animals, not one of these 12 animals (alleged to have been abandoned or treated cruelly) but an animal in the same … setting, and so certainly her observations are valid.”

Tuscola County Assistant Prosecutor Kathleen A. Miller argued that the Guseks’ cattle didn’t have adequate care because they didn’t have proper shelter. Miller claimed the couple was given adequate time to provide appropriate shelter for the cattle, but refused to do so.

Briggs testified that topography – the lay of the land or trees – can provide sufficient shelter, but Miller indicated to Judge Gierhart that the Guseks’ cattle weren’t able to seek refuge by that means.

“She’s talking about a ravine and trees, but they’re fenced in. They can’t get to that,” Miller said of Briggs’ testimony.

Miller said “it was undisputed during the course of the preliminary exam that these animals were held in a pen, that they were not allowed to … leave.”

Miller told Judge Gierhart that Hassler testified that “protection is necessary every day of the year, all the time, not just when there’s good weather, and that it has to be there at all times … in particular in this state because (weather) changes all the time.”

A reporter visiting the site of the alleged crimes on Dec. 3 viewed a wooded area several hundred yards west of the pen where prosecutors allege the Guseks had confined the 12 cattle. The woods was at a higher elevation than the pen.

The Guseks’ attorney, Cass City lawyer Jason E. Bitzer, stressed that an animal control officer testifying for the prosecution “put in her report that when she went to see the animals, the animals were in good health and of good weight.”

“So isn’t the fact that they were in good health indicative of the fact that during that time period, May and June of 2017, that the animals actually had sufficient shelter?” Bitzer asked.

Bitzer told Gierhart that the Guseks were alleged to have committed the crime of abandoning/cruelty to 10 or more animals from May into June of 2017, but not during an extreme cold spell in the winter.

“So to say what if – what would happen if the animals were still left in the cold in the winter, well, then (prosecutors) should have charged it differently,” Bitzer said. “They should have charged it and waited until the animals were left in that state in the winter. But that’s not what they chose to do.”

Christopher Gusek has emphasized that even though some cattle were in a pen, the location of the pen – on the leeward side of sloped pasture land – provided the cattle with adequate protection. He said the pen referred to by prosecutors is a “feedlot” where the Guseks kept their fatter cattle prior to sale.