NH Labrador Trial: Sorting Through the Confusion of Day 1
On July 10th, 52 Labrador retrievers and 1 cat were rescued from a property in Marlborough NH. The owner, an unlicensed NH breeder, was arrested for animal cruelty. Day one of the trial was September 14th. However, it didn't necessarily go as expected. Many animal cruelty cases are complex, and this one is no exception.
Before court proceedings began, the Defendant spoke with Straight Twist. Mr. Riggieri stated that although he is not a practicing attorney, he has chosen to defend himself, as a court-appointed attorney would not represent him better.
He additionally shared that he had 19 puppies to sell just before the seizure took place and intended to have all the proceeds go to 'Wounded Warrioress'; the breast cancer charity he created. He asserted those proceeds would've added up to approximately $20K.
There's not a lot of information regarding Wounded Warrioress, other than it is a non-profit, tax-except charity, with the same address as his property where the animals were found, according to court documents, living among urine, feces, and dirt.
On one hand, Mr. Riggieri may be charitable when it comes to those battling cancer. On the other hand, if he was selling his dog's offspring for tens of thousands, one can't help but wonder why that money didn't go towards the adequate care of them.
One of the charges filed against the Defendant is for injuries from overexposure to excrement sustained by one liter of puppies kept in a bathtub. According to court documents, a container that appeared to be their water dish was full of urine. Undoubtedly $20K could contribute towards a more sanitary place for those puppies, or at the very least, potable water.
When court proceedings began, Mr. Riggieri advised Presiding Judge, Erin McIntyre, that he had preliminary questions for the Prosecution before moving forward. And just like that, day one of trial essentially became a pretrial hearing.
Unfortunately, whether or not the Defendant's inquiries or requests were justifiable, he was not following court procedure; causing confusion for Judge McIntyre to sort through, as well as repeated conversations about his lack of representation.
"If you had an attorney with you, they would be able to advise you on the process, on the law, on the procedure," Judge McIntyre stated. She expressed that if he cannot afford an attorney one would be appointed to him. However, Mr. Riggieri confirmed multiple times that he was knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently waiving his right to counsel.
After sorting through what seemed like scattered puzzle pieces from the Defendant, the Judge determined there were two possible motions the Defendant seemed to be proposing; a motion to dismiss the trial, and a motion to suppress the evidence. The Defendant agreed to provide a written motion, and the Court rescheduled the trial.
According to court documents, the Defendant challenged the legality of the seizure because there was no warrant on the date it took place. Mr. Riggieri had fallen behind on his mortgage, which led to foreclosure and his eviction. On July 10th at approx. 2pm, Lieutenant Caleb Dodson arrived on scene to initiate those eviction proceedings. The animals were technically seized as part of that eviction process. However, because Lt. Dodson witnessed animal cruelty while there, he later obtained a warrant for the Defendant's arrest. That warrant is dated August 3rd.
When a foreclosure eviction takes place, law enforcement may lawfully seize the homeowner's property. However, at approx. 10:30am on the date of the eviction, Mr. Riggieri filed an Automatic Stay with the US Bankruptcy Court. An Automatic Stay is an injunction that can halt the eviction of a debtor who has declared bankruptcy. Under US bankruptcy law, a valid Automatic Stay takes effect at the exact date and time the petition is filed.
The Defendant asserts he additionally filed a motion with the District Court as a notice of the petition and to stay the eviction on July 10th at 11:45am. He also claims he provided the Sheriff's office and Lt. Dodson with a copy of those documents at 12pm.
Whether or not the District Court or Sherrif's office had the time or authority to rule or act on Mr. Riggieri's motion to stay the eviction is currently unknown. That may impact the justifiability of a motion to suppress the evidence, as the Lieutenant witnessed probable cause of animal cruelty during the eviction. However, there are exceptions to an Automatic Stay, and the District Court may require an actual order from the US Bankruptcy Court to prevent an eviction, as opposed to a petition alone.
In this case, that order is dated July 25th. Therefore, although the US Bankruptcy Court ruled that the eviction on July 10th was void, that was after the fact, and the eviction and seizure may have been lawful during the time it took place.
Additionally, the Defendant stated that on July 10th, he believed the seizure and relocation of his animals to the Monadnock Humane Society (MHS) to be temporary while his eviction petition was sorted out. And he assisted in ID'ing and the loading of them for their transport.
Under NH law, when animals are seized, the owner must be notified that they have seven days to reclaim the animals. Otherwise, the animals are considered abandoned, and ownership is forfeited (RSA 437:18-21).
The court documents indicate that the Defendant was advised of his rights regarding the seizure on July 10th. The MHS also mailed a notice of the seven-day law to the Defendant certificate of mailing on July 17th, giving him until 5:30pm, July 24th. Those seven days came and went, and Mr. Riggieri did not reclaim his animals. On August 1st, the Defendant made an arrangement with the MHS to reclaim the animals. However, at that point it was too late, as the animals were being retained by the State due to animal cruelty, bringing us back to the warrant for his arrest.
If the Defendant did not have time to reclaim the animals, that is unfortunate from his perspective. However, we must consider the fact the charges for animal cruelty were filed based on probable cause, which would've occurred whether he reclaimed his animals or not. There were also two litters of puppies, which indicates that Mr. Riggieri continued breeding despite inhumane living conditions. His intention of selling 19 puppies and not using the proceeds to improve those conditions, is a testament to the fact that the Defendant was putting the breeding and sale of offspring above the care of the animals.
Following the court hearing on September 14th, the Defendant spoke with Straight Twist further. He stated that NH's animal cruelty laws are far too broad and that the Prosecution should not be able 'piggyback' charges.
One of the charges is for the injuries of up to 16 dogs resulting in scarring, one for up to 11 dogs with Giardia, and another for up to 20 dogs with hookworm, etc. Mr. Riggieri expressed that if those charges were broken down as one charge for each dog, it would demonstrate the ridiculousness of the charges. "Every one of those dogs needs to be addressed in that matrix, and they would've had about 132 charges against me," he stated. In NH, the penalty for a misdemeanor is up to one year in jail. "You can't give me 132 years," he said, implying that the punishment would not fit the crime.
The charges against Mr. Riggieri also include the deprivation of treatment for up to four dogs with otitis, which he believes is outrageous. "Could you see me going to prison and saying, 'What are you in for?' 'Ear infections.' 'What are you in for?' 'Giardia.' ... Huh?" he said, indicating that it makes no sense to him.
Otitis is a chronic inflammation of a dog's external ear canal (otitis externa), which can lead to a ruptured eardrum (otitis media), or otitis interna, which is an infection of the inner ear. Anyone who has experienced an ear infection, or a ruptured eardrum, can certainly understand how painful that is.
However, the Defendant seemed to disregard the responsibility an owner and breeder has to provide adequate medical treatment for dogs who are suffering from ailments, including those as painful as an ear infection, wounds leading to scaring, and diseases, such as Giardia, which is transferable to humans.
As for the dogs with scars, Mr. Riggieri stated, "My dogs run through the woods, of course they got scars. We're on 10 acres. We run through the woods. A scar isn't an [indication] of any abuse."
Not mentioned, was that according to Lt. Dodson's affidavit, the dogs were exhibiting aggressive behavior the date of the seizure. That behavior was partially provoked and unprevented by the Defendant when he poured dog food onto the driveway. Some of the dogs would growl at others, blocking their access to the food.
Additionally noted by Lt. Dodson, is that he witnessed a wounded dog on the front lawn. The Defendant advised him that the dog was attacked by other dogs earlier that day. The lack of prevention or lack of treatment for such wounds may not be considered direct abuse, but it is neglect, which is against NH law.
Yet, Mr. Riggieri is adamant that the Prosecution doesn't have adequate evidence proving their allegations, and that the seizure of the dogs was unlawful. As for where the whole truth lies, that won't fully be answered until the trial officially begins on its new date of October 29th.
Cover Image: Labrador retriever is not part of the Marlborough cruelty case.