Case resolved at what cost?
Ellen Mills 'infuriated' over two year ordeal that ends with 'unlicensed dog'
May 27, 2009
IMLAY TWP. — Though there are no longer any charges pending against her, Ellen Mills is anything but relieved. In fact, she says she's furious.
Earlier this month, Mills and her husband Clare 'Mark' Mills, each entered a guilty plea to a single misdemeanor count of having an unlicensed dog. The couple also put up a new fence around their property as agreed upon by the parties.
The plea arrangement comes some two years after the Mills family Weyer Road property was searched by Lapeer County Animal Control and law enforcement officials for suspected animal abuse.
Following the search, Ellen, Mark and their adult children Kate and Andrew each faced felony and misdemeanor charges including animal killing and torture, failure to bury animals, animal cruelty and unlicensed dogs.
Charges against Kate and Andrew were later dropped when District Court Judge Laura Barnard ruled that Kate was away at college during the time of the alleged abuse and that Andrew should not have been charged. By then, however, Kate's reigning title as Oakland County 4-H Queen drew media attention from across the state and country—she was referred to in some headlines as the 'Queen of Mean.'
In January, Barnard quashed all evidence obtained during the March, 2007 search of the Mill's property, ruling that the search was illegal. As a result, prosecutors were barred from introducing photographs, veterinary examinations and other evidence which supported the abuse and neglect charges.
"As a result of the court's ruling where (the judge) basically suppressed the results and evidence that was seized from the property during the search, we basically had no evidence to submit," says Tom Sparrow, assistant prosecuting attorney.
During the search, officials found several dead lambs, a dead horse and three dogs that appeared to be malnourished, Sparrow says. That's why he worked toward resolving the case.
"I don't think the Mills are evil people," he says. "Actually I was able to deal with them and reach a plea agreement and maintain a cordial relationship."
Added into the mix of the two-year-plus ordeal was the recurrent complaint by Mills' neighbors that their animals were running loose, Sparrow says.
"A big concern was the ongoing neighbor dispute, and as part of the plea arrangement they put up a new fence," Sparrow says. "The judge went out and inspected it and based on her assurance, we agreed to dismiss those charges."
The judge waived any fines and fees, including reimbursement of costs accrued for care of animals that were seized from the Mills' property.
That's more than a little ironic, says Ellen Mills.
"This has not cost me one dime but can you imagine what it cost the taxpayers of this county?" she says. "And I'm going to end up being this terrible person in Lapeer County because we're suing the county. You can't imagine in your wildest dreams what it's cost the family."
Among the costs Ellen tallies is daughter Kate's intended career in veterinary medicine.
"The Internet is unforgiving," Ellen says. "(The stories) will always be on there. All someone has to do is Google her name or something and they'll look and see she was charged with killing and torturing an animal. She's being realistic not to put the time and effort and money into vet school with the potential to be ostracized."
Instead, Ellen says, Kate graduated from MSU this month with a bachelor's degree in animal science.
The ordeal has taken a toll on Ellen's physical and mental health, she says, and has cost her thousands in lost income from the couple's commercial cleaning business.
"We had an account that we cleaned for ten years and the summer after it all happened they said they were uncomfortable with our legal situation," she says. "That was $4,000 a month lost in that contract that we had for ten years."
Ellen says she's "infuriated" that the case went as far as it did, and though she's happy with Barnard's decision she's not pleased with what the family's been through.
"They've put me through two years of hell and I'm supposed to accept the fact that the only thing they got out of it was an unlicensed dog," she says. "Do you do that to somebody for an unlicensed dog? I can't even begin to tell you what it's done to us."