July 20, 2015
By Carlos Andres Lopez
05:40:56 PM MDT
Dr. Beth Vesco-Mock
LAS CRUCES >> Prosecutors abruptly dismissed a case against Dr. Beth
Vesco-Mock, the director of the Animal Service Center of the Mesilla Valley,
on Monday in Doña Ana County Magistrate Court.
The unexpected dismissal came more than four months after Vesco-Mock had
been charged in a two-count criminal complaint filed in March by Curtis
Childress, the county’s animal cruelty supervisor.
The case, according to the complaint, involved two dogs suspected of
attacking and killing several livestock animals on March 1 at a home in the
900 block of Harper Road.
Vesco-Mock was accused of violating a county ordinance after shelter staff
members allegedly refused to release one of the dog’s microchip information
to a county animal control officer. Vesco-Mock was also charged with
resisting, evading or obstructing an officer.
In May, the complaint was amended and two additional charges, including a
second county violation, were filed against Vesco-Mock, who faced up to 364
days in jail for each of the three misdemeanor charges.
On Monday, Vesco-Mock’s attorney, Margaret Strickland of Las Cruces, and
Mick Gutierrez, the deputy district attorney for the 3rd Judicial District
Attorney’s Office, presented opening statements before jurors and Magistrate
Judge Richard Jacquez.
Gutierrez called three witnesses to testify, including Childress, before the
trial went into recess for lunch. Gutierrez indicated to the court that he
planned to call a fourth and final witness, Curtis Herring, a shelter
employee, to testify before jurors.
However, Herring, whom Gutierrez described as a “critical” witness in the
state’s case, was unable to testify because he was out the state.
When the trial resumed in the afternoon, Jacquez informed those in the
courtroom — including several friends and family members who wore pink
clothing in support of Vesco-Mock — that the case had been dismissed with
prejudice, meaning prosecutors cannot bring the case back to court.
“We are very happy that the District Attorney’s Office decided to dismiss
these false allegations against Dr. Vesco-Mock,” Strickland said.
Vesco-Mock declined to comment and referred questions to Strickland.
Gutierrez declined to explain his decision to dismiss the case in detail,
but, in a statement, he said, “In the interest of justice, we dismissed the
Strickland said she was “somewhat surprised” by the case’s abrupt dismal.
She said she learned of Gutierrez’s decision minutes before Jacquez
addressed the courtroom in the afternoon.
Still, Strickland believed the evidence would have shown that Vesco-Mock had
been “falsely and wrongfully” accused.
“I felt confident that the jury would have exonerated Dr. Vesco-Mock,” she
said. “There’s no proof that she committed these crimes.”
During her opening statements, Stickland addressed each of the four charges.
The first count alleged that Vesco-Mock “failed to give licensure
information to a law enforcement officer,” Strickland told jurors.
The complaint states that a county animal control officer went to the
shelter and tried to obtain microchip information for one of the dogs
apprehended in the March 1 livestock attack. But staff members told the
officer to file a records request, the complaint states.
According to Strickland, the evidence presented to jurors would have shown
that the officer sought microchip information, not licensing information.
“Microchips are held by other parties,” Strickland said. “Licensing is held
directly by the shelter, (and) animal control has that information at its
finger tips. In this case, they weren’t asking for that.”
Strickland also argued that the ordinance only applies to areas throughout
the county that are not within city limits, where the shelter is located and
where the alleged violation occurred.
In addressing the second charge — resisting, evading or obstructing an
officer — Strickland said Vesco-Mock and her staff “immediately complied”
with a court order to release the dog’s microchip information.
Childress, during his testimony, maintained that Vesco-Mock resisted the
officer’s orders, saying in part, “If they had complied with the previous
request, I would not have needed a court order.”
He later added, “They had no choice but comply.”
Strickland told jurors that the third charge filed against Vesco-Mock
alleged that she released a dog that had killed livestock to its owner,
which is a violation of county ordinance. The was no evidence that the two
dogs attacked and killed the livestock at the home on Harper Road, she
Shea Beer, the animal control officer who responded to the incident,
testified that she was unable to definitively conclude that the dogs, which
were found in the same pen with the animals, were responsible for the
In his testimony, Childress said he had a conversation with Vesco-Mock on
March 3. He said the two discussed ways in which to improve “dealing with
these types of cases.”
“Then, I brought up this dog and this case. But she said I don’t want to
involve myself with those things,” said Childress, who was also a central
figure in the Kim Stewart retaliation case against Doña Ana County.
Strickland said Vesco-Mock plans to proceed with her own civil suit against
the county. “Now this case is over, we can proceed with the tort claim,” she
said. “Anybody wrongfully facing criminal charges is going to also face
substantial fear and stress, and Dr. Vesco-Mock is no exception.”
Carlos Andres López can be reached at 575-541-5453.