The Lewis and Clark County Attorney's Office filed felony aggravated animal cruelty charges Friday against three men who ran a quarter horse breeding operation in the Helena Valley.
The Lewis and Clark Sheriff's Office seized 58 horses on June 1 from the operation owned by Alan Edwin Erickson, 45, Clayton Ray Erickson, 35, and Robert Edwin Erickson, 71.
After enacting a search warrant for the ranch, located at 6705 Applegate Road, the horses were transported to the Lewis and Clark County Fairgrounds.
A veterinarian performed a battery of examinations on the horses and, according to the affidavit, eight of the horses were underweight, 19 suffered from overgrown hooves. Additionally, numerous horses were determined to have lice and at least five had abdominal hernias.
Attempts to reach the Ericksons for comment Friday afternoon were unsuccessful.
The neglect in Lewis and Clark County has allegedly been ongoing since about January 2018, but Robert Erickson was previously convicted of two counts of animal cruelty to horses in Phillips County in 1997, according to court documents. As part of his sentencing in the 1997 case, Robert Erickson was ordered to make immediate efforts to clean and repair his horse corrals, drastically reduce the number of horses in his care and maintain proof of his financial ability to care for those horses.
In 2008, Phillips County attorneys filed animal cruelty charges again against Robert Erickson and his son Alan Erickson, court documents state. Both men entered into two-year deferred prosecution agreements, limiting the number of horses the men could keep in Phillips County to 22 and requiring they provide adequate care.
A petition to reinstate Robert Erickson's prosecution was filed in 2011, at which point a second deferred prosecution agreement with the same requirements was entered into. It was about this time when local authorities believe the Ericksons packed up shop and relocated to Lewis and Clark County, court documents filed by Lewis and Clark County Deputy County Attorney Fallon Stanton stated.
"It is unknown the number of horses initially brought into Lewis and Clark County as the Ericksons did not obtain brand inspections of the horses before moving them across county lines as required by (state law)," the affidavit states.
The affidavit also alleges the Ericksons did not submit per capita livestock reporting forms or pay per capita fees per head. It is further alleged that no per capita fees have been paid by Alan, Clay or Robert Erickson since 2012.
The family claimed only three horses on the per capita form between the years of 2012 and 2018, which were listed as being owned by Robert Erickson's wife, Rosemarie Roseland, court documents stated.
The affidavit states between February of 2013 and the present, "the county received numerous calls for welfare checks on horses believed to belong to the Ericksons at three different properties in Lewis and Clark County."
During a 2018 incident, an animal control officer responded to a call about an injured horse caught in barbed wire at an address on Fantasy Road, from which the Ericksons were later evicted, officials said.
The officer reported observing pasture areas that "were poorly maintained with sections of wire and a vast amount of debris strewn on the ground. The pasture was nothing but rock, dirt, and debris with no vegetation anywhere," the affidavit states.
The court documents go on to detail the ongoing monitoring of the operation by the animal control officer. Horses were found with lacerations, hernias, lower back injuries, cracked hooves and extensive matting.
Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton said 15 law enforcement officials, including deputies, a U.S. Forest Service ranger and a Department of Livestock employee, were on scene during the June 1 raid to help round up the horses.
Neighboring ranch hands also lent their services.
When asked on June 1 if he had ever seen a case like this, Dutton said "Of this severity? Not in my career. I've only been doing this for 35 years."