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Charges dismissed in goat mistreatment case
Defense attorney: ‘The whole case was ridiculous’
goat stock

MONROE — Charges of mistreating goats were dismissed against a Monroe man after the defense attorney on the case convinced the prosecutor the evidence didn’t add up.

Moayyad Hassan Mustafa, 53, was charged last year with one Class A misdemeanor count each of intentionally mistreating animals, intentionally failing to provide food to animals and intentionally sheltering animals in temperatures incompatible with their health.

On May 8, District Attorney Craig Nolen dismissed the charges on the condition of a one-year agreement that stipulates Mustafa attend quarterly review hearings, abstain from contact with goats for 90 days and complete an online course on livestock care.

Nolen acknowledged issues with evidence in the case and said he “thought what we came to was an appropriate resolution.”

“My principle concern was the education for Mr. Mustafa,” Nolen said, referring to the online course on livestock care that Mustafa has already completed.

Assistant State Public Defender Guy Taylor represented Mustafa and called the basis for the charges “entirely false” and the result of a “clash of cultures.”

“This was one we were really incensed about in the office,” he said. “The whole case was ridiculous.”

The undisputed facts of the case are that Mustafa left four goats hog-tied in the back of his open car on a hot September day in downtown Monroe. Police seized the goats and took them to a farm. Six days later, one of the goats was found dead in a pasture.

But there is more to the story to consider, including the origin and health of the goats, the length of time Mustafa left his goats in the car and what he planned to do with them.

Monroe police officer Corey Mills was dispatched midday Sept. 15, to a backyard in the 1000 block of 9th Avenue, where he met with a group of people giving water and shade to four goats.

A passerby found the goats upside-down and tied up by their legs in an open trunk and backseat of an unattended vehicle in the neighborhood, Mills learned.

In his report filed with the criminal complaint, Mills noted the goats were panting heavily and appeared to be suffering heat exhaustion. Temperatures that day were in the mid to upper 80s.

Mills identified Mustafa as the owner of the vehicle and goats and located him nearby at his home in the 900 block of 11th Street. Mustafa said he purchased the goats that morning at Equity Cooperative Livestock Sales and had stopped at home to get something to drink before he took the goats to a farm outside the city, according to Mills.

A neighbor reported Mustafa’s car had been parked in the same spot for several hours.

How long the car was parked was a key detail that could have supported a case for charges of animal mistreatment.

But it turns out the neighbor was mistaken. Through his own investigation, Taylor discovered that Mustafa could not have left the car parked that long. The timestamp on Mustafa’s receipt from Equity Cooperative Livestock Sales did not support a timeline in which he left the goats unattended in a hot car for hours.

“(The car) had actually only been parked there a couple of minutes. He had just stopped briefly to take some heart medication and get a quick bite,” Taylor said.

Thousands of visitors were in Monroe that weekend for Cheese Days and parking was hard to come by, so Mustafa had to park further from home than usual, Taylor noted.

Nolen acknowledged the neighbor’s account didn’t line up with evidence.

“We were unable to establish time frame,” he said.

Taylor discovered other details he believed weakened the case for animal mistreatment.

Mustafa butchers goats for meat following the Islamic practice of halal, which dictates a humane slaughter and is designed in part to reduce the pain and distress the animal suffers.

“For this client, it’s a real religious ritual to butcher the meat in the proper way. ... I confirmed with the farm where he keeps the animals that he’s really nice to the animals,” Taylor said.

The goats Mustafa buys, including the goats he bought Sept. 15, are typically inexpensive “cull animals,” which are already in poor health and “will basically be made into glue unless you buy them,” Taylor said.

Moreover, it’s normal for goats to pant to cool themselves down. Taylor said he also consulted with a veterinarian who saw no connection between Mustafa’s handling of the goats and the cause of one’s death six days later, after police seized the animals.

“The goat was sick when he bought it,” Taylor said. A necropsy report filed with the criminal complaint indicated it “cannot be definitively determined” whether heat stress caused the goat’s demise, although it “may have played a role.”

Taylor also said it’s normal to hog-tie goats for transport: “There’s a reason that it’s called hog-tying — that’s a way to restrain livestock. It’s been the way to restrain livestock for millennia.”

The case is an example of overreaction, Taylor said.

Mustafa is a Palestinian immigrant living in Monroe with family and is a native speaker of Arabic whose English was not good enough to defend himself or explain the situation to police, Taylor said. Mustafa did have access to a translator in court.

“He’s a really sweet and gentle man. I was really disappointed that he was given short shrift by the police. ... As far as I’m concerned, he was wrongfully denied of his goats. He was robbed,” Taylor said.

“It was an honor and a privilege to represent him. ... I was prepared to litigate if I had to. But the work that we did was sufficient to convince the state.”

Nolen said he was surprised to learn that “a lot of people transport goats by car” from Equity Cooperative Livestock Sales. He also expressed concern over how “ungodly hot” it was on the day Mustafa had the goats in his car.

But, in the end, butchering goats for halal meat is “his way to provide for his family,” and Nolen was satisfied with bringing the case to resolution with a dismissal and a few stipulations.