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Havasupai tribal court sets probation in case of horse abuse

A Havasupai tribal member arrested last month on animal cruelty charges related to one of his pack horses will no longer face those charges in federal court.

Instead, Cecil Watahomigie was prosecuted and pled guilty to animal cruelty and alcohol possession charges in Havasupai Tribal Court on Thursday, the day before he was set to appear in federal court.

Watahomigie lives in the village of Supai on the Havasupai reservation and owns horses that he uses to haul goods — mainly tourists’ gear — to and from the popular waterfalls just below the village.

He was arrested Sept. 19 by the Bureau of Indian Affairs on charges of animal neglect and failure to provide medical attention to one of his pack horses, which was found to be malnourished, abused and suffering from multiple untreated wounds and open sores.

He was also charged with a misdemeanor related to the possession of alcohol, which is illegal on the reservation.

In tribal court on Thursday, Watahomigie pled guilty to one count of animal cruelty and one count of liquor possession, both of which violate tribal law.

Emery Cowan / Emery Cowan 

Cecil Watahomigie, left, will no longer face federal animal cruelty charges related to his treatment of one of his pack horses on the Havasupai Indian Reservation. Instead, he pled guilty to similar charges in tribal court on Thursday, leading the U.S. Attorney's Office on Friday to dismiss the federal charges against him. 

He was sentenced to a 30-day jail term that is suspended for the term of his probation, which is six months. His horse will remain in the custody of the Bureau of Indian Affairs for at least three months. The sentence calls for tribal animal control and/or probation officials to inspect Watahomigie’s horses at random, without notice and provide monthly updates. Watahomigie’s confiscated horse could be returned to him if he is able to demonstrate that he is able to properly care for his horses.

In Friday’s hearing at U.S. District Court in Flagstaff, U.S. Attorney Paul Stearns announced that the federal government would move to dismiss all three charges against Watahomigie because they were being addressed in tribal court.

Watahomigie declined to comment as he left the courtroom.

According to a statement provided by the Havasupai Tribe earlier this month in response to Watahomigie’s case, the tribe has hired for the first time a tribal prosecutor who is a licensed attorney and a tribal court judge who is also an attorney.

“These efforts have resulted in animal abuse convictions by the Havasupai Tribal Court,” said the statement, provided by a public relations firm hired by the tribe.

Stearns acknowledged the hiring of those legal officials and the tribe’s implementation of animal care standards for pack horses, saying that while there is still work to do, the tribe “has made a lot of progress in the past year and a half.”

A year and a half ago, another member of the Havasupai Tribe, Leland Joe, was arrested by federal authorities on animal cruelty charges. Four of Joe’s horses were found to be severely underweight and had open sores on their backs, hips and shoulder areas from packs constantly rubbing against their skin. After pleading guilty to two animal cruelty misdemeanor charges related to one of the horses, Joe was sentenced to three years of supervised probation and was ordered to permanently give up all four of the horses that were confiscated by the BIA during his arrest.

It was the first known federal prosecution of animal cruelty in Indian Country, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

HISTORY OF HORSE ABUSE

A Flagstaff veterinarian who evaluated Watahomigie’s horse in July characterized its body condition as a 2.5 to 3 out of a 9-point scale. An optimum body score for working horses is 5 or 6 and the tribe’s standards state that horses must meet a score of 4 to be approved for packing.

According to court documents, the veterinarian said Watahomigie’s horse suffered from chronic malnourishment, open and chronic skin lesions resulting from poorly fitted packs and a lesion on its tongue suggesting it had at one point been nearly severed.

According to additional evidence filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Watahomigie’s case, several other horses that had been under his care or ownership suffered from extreme malnutrition and mistreatment.

“This evidence predates the current case and will support that the condition of the horse at issue in this case was not an accident, a mistake, or a ‘one off' condition. Moreover, this evidence will support the defendant’s knowledge and intent, in that he uses and abuses his horses, and then gets rid of them, often selling them to rescue groups or concerned individuals,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office stated in its filing.

The evidence refers to two horses that a citizen rescued from Watahomogie in June 2016 and March 2017. Photos of the horse rescued in 2016 shows the animal was severely underweight, with skin stretched taut over its ribs and backbone, and had overgrown hooves. It was eventually euthanized.

Other horses were rescued from Watahomigie in approximately 2014, one of which was “extremely emaciated and malnourished” with hooves that were not properly maintained, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office evidence.

TRIBAL RESPONSE

The Havasupai Tribe’s statement emphasized its continuing partnership with animal welfare groups like the Humane Society of the United States. Such work aims to provide ongoing training, care and equipment for pack animals in Supai. The tribe's Animal Control Office enforces regulations daily regarding animal packing and health and the tribe has made prosecution of animal cruelty-related offenses a top priority, according to the statement.

“The Tribe is very concerned about the health and welfare of our animals. So many of our tribal members rely on them for income, but they mean something more than just that to us. We have grown up around our horses and mules; cruelty is not the Havasupai way," Tribal Chairman Don E. Watahomigie said in the statement. "With our tribal prosecutor and tribal judge, along with the animal control office, we are working diligently to identify those few tribal members who engage in this type of behavior and allow our tribal court system to prosecute such individuals.”

Watahomigie is not immediately related to Cecil Watahomigie, according to the public relations firm that provided the statement.

In an interview last year, Watahomige noted the challenge of importing horse feed to the village of Supai, eight miles into the Grand Canyon.

“Our feed comes 100-some miles away and then has to be brought down by horse, packed down, and sometimes that is not easy,” the chairman said at the time.

About 30 percent of Havasupai Tribal members live below the poverty line, according to the latest Census Bureau data, and the cost of feeding and properly taking care of a pack horse amounts to thousands of dollars a year.

Soleil Dolce, vice president of Arizona Equine Rescue Organization, estimated it costs $4,800 annually to provide adequate feed and care for a working horse, but that’s for a horse in the Phoenix area. The situation in Supai is much different. There is no veterinarian, so much of the care is done by volunteer organizations that make trips to the reservation, while feed must be brought in from far away, so costs are ratcheted up, Dolce said.

Emery Cowan / U.S. Attorney's Office  

A horse rescued from Havasupai tribal member Cecil Watahomigie in 2014. On Thursday, Watahomigie pled guilty in tribal court to one charge of animal cruelty. Watahomigie was arrested last month on federal animal cruelty charges related to a different horse that he owned. The photo, which was filed as evidence by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Watahomigie's case, supports "the defendant’s knowledge and intent, in that he uses and abuses his horses, and then gets rid of them, often selling them to rescue groups or concerned individuals,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office stated in its court filing.

Feed expenses are even higher for horses that are underweight and recovering from wounds and mistreatment. Michelle Ryan, executive director of the Coconino Humane Association, which has taken in several horses from the Havasupai Reservation, said the nonprofit spent an average of $550 per horse for veterinary services and $200 per month per horse for feed when they were trying to help the animals gain weight.


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Takei talks internment, gay rights and Star Trek

More than one hour before the show starts the line stretches out of NAU's Prochnow Auditorium, across the building’s façade, to the sidewalk and down the street. A guy standing off to the side holds up a handwritten sign: I need a ticket. The majority of the people in line appear far too young be so enthusiastic to see an 80-year-old actor who first found fame in a 1960s television show.

Among those waiting in line Thursday night were three NAU students who then managed to snag seats in the front row.

Aaron Vitatoe, 19, wasn’t born when George Takei rocketed to stardom as Mr. Sulu in the original Star Trek series. But, he said, his age doesn’t preclude him from identifying as a Trekkie (a mega fan).

His friends, Alex Dahlmann, 21, and Jacob Muzch, 20, were also big Takei fans. But, like many in audience, it wasn’t just Takei’s acting career that brought them to the SUN Entertainment event. It was his activism.

Takei works passionately for social justice and regularly reaches an audience of millions through social media.

The three friends were especially interested in Takei’s story about his experiences during World War II.

“It’s important to remember about Japanese internment camps,” Dahlmann said.

“A lot of people are very afraid of internment camps happening again,” Vitatoe added, referencing a push by President Donald Trump to bar people from Muslim countries from entering the United States, as well as a rise in hate crimes.

Bobbie Fitzgibbon had also waited in line outside for more than an hour in order to get a good seat. She said she was old enough to remember the original series and was a fan from the beginning. Like the NAU students, she too was impressed by Takei’s advocacy on social and political issues.

“I follow him on Facebook,” Fitzgibbon said. “He’s very liberal. He tells it like it is. He’s honest and open.”

When Takei finally takes the stage, he stands alone next to a small stool with two water bottles on it, and begins weaving his story for the sold-out house.

Takei’s parents were both born in California, his mom in Sacramento, his dad in Los Angeles. They were just another American family living in Southern California, until Dec. 7, 1941 – the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the United States entered World War II. “Our lives changed cataclysmically.”

“We were innocent American citizens. Because of our ancestry, we were looked at as the enemy.”

When thousands of Japanese-Americans tried to enlist in the military, to fight for their country, they were turned away and labeled "enemy aliens." In LA a curfew was established for Japanese-Americans, then their bank accounts were frozen; finally, on Feb. 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 requiriing all Japanese-Americans on the West Coast -- American citizens who were accused of no crime -- to be rounded up.

On April 20, 1942, George Takei turned 5 years old. A few short weeks later he and his young siblings were awakened in the night by their parents. Armed soldiers pounded on their door.

“At gunpoint we were ordered out of our home. It was a terrorizing morning.”

They were loaded onto trucks and taken to the Santa Anita horse racetrack where each family was assigned a horse stall to live in. They lived in the smelly stalls for months while internment camps were being built in desolate spots across the country. When the camps were ready, Takei, his family and thousands of others were loaded onto trains by armed guards. Takei’s family was taken to a camp in a swamp in Arkansas.

“I still remember the barbed wire fence that surrounded us.”

Takei and the other children attended school in a tarpaper shack where they would dutifully recite the pledge of allegiance every day with the guard tower, armed guards and barbed wire in full view out the window making a silent mockery of their words, “With liberty, and justice for all.”

The family remained in captivity until the end the war in 1945, when camp doors were opened across the country and each family was given $25 and train tickets.

Takei’s parents returned to LA, where racial hostility remained intense and jobs were scarce. They were forced to live in a hotel on Skid Row while his father worked various jobs to get the family back on its feet.

When Takei was a teenager he started to get curious about his internment history. He searched history books for information but found nothing. So he asked his father about it. He told his father that he, George, would have protested their incarceration. His father gently reminded him that the family was removed from their home at gunpoint.

“I think the most arrogant people in the world are idealistic teenagers,” Takei joked.

Despite what they had been through, his father still believed in the United States. Still believed that democracy is the best form of government. But democracy, he said, depends on people’s engagement in the process.

“It takes people working together, striving for that ideal of democracy.”

“The people can do great things,” Takei’s father told him. “Great people can still make horrible mistakes,” he said of FDR’s decision to sign the incarceration order.

From that moment forward, Takei was an activist. He was active in the civil rights movement in the 1960s. He was active in the peace movement during the Vietnam War. He worked for redress from the government for the victims of the internment.

In 1988, President Ronald Regan, on behalf of the country, apologized to Japanese-Americans for their unjust imprisonment during World War II and token redress of $20,000 was promised to survivors.

To Takei, it was a sign that his father had been right. The democratic system, in its agonizingly slow way, had corrected a great wrong. Sadly, his father didn’t live to hear the apology; he had died nine years before.

At this point is his talk, Takei switched to the other pillar of his identity that has defined his life: his sexuality. Takei is gay. He knew, he said, as young as 10 years old that he was different from other boys. He also knew that he had to keep it hidden. As a teenager, when his friends started dating girls, so did he. When his acting career started to take off, he knew it was more critical than ever to keep his secret. To publicly come out as gay would destroy his career. He also knew that he would be criminalized, just like he been as a Japanese-American in 1942. And so, he kept up the pretense. He stayed silent.

Others, however, raised their voices and the gay rights movement found success in 2003 when the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled for marriage equality.

In 2005, California state legislators passed a marriage equality bill. But it was vetoed by Governor Arnold Schwartzeneggar.

That was the moment Takei knew it was time to end his silence.

“I was raging,” he said. The fight for LGBT rights has been a major component of his life ever since.

Again, his father’s belief in the bumpy democratic process was vindicated.

In 2015, the United States Supreme Court ruled for marriage equality across the nation.

“It was a thrilling day,” Takei said. “This is an amazing country.”

After a standing ovation, Takei took questions from the audience who wanted to know about gay characters on Star Trek, Takei’s opinion of the likelihood of future internment camps, challenges he has faced and his Broadway musical, “Allegiance.”

Through it all, and despite the injustice and prejudice he has had to endure, Takei’s outlook was positive. He said he learned optimism from his parents and has seen the power of positivity.

“It’s the pessimists who never get anything done,” he said.

Then he raised his right hand in the Vulcan salute, told the audience to “live long and prosper,” and left the stage.


Benji Shanahan, Arizona Daily Sun 

Coconino’s Bryce Wright (5) shakes off a Mingus Union defender Friday night during Friday's home game against Mingus Union at Cromer Stadium.


Benji Shanahan, Arizona Daily Su 

Spencer and Sebastian Urick collaborate on the best way to stack their cups Friday night during the DeMiguel School Fall Carnival. For a full list of fall weekend events, see the Almanac, page A2.


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Malzahn did hard time for Flagstaff assault

The Williams man who is the chief suspect in the murder of a Glendale kindergarten teacher did prison time for assaulting a bar patron and Flagstaff police officer.

Charlie Malzahn had a history of violence before he was the main suspect in the homicide investigation of Cathryn Gorospe, whose body was found in Mayer on Oct. 13, according to the Yavapai County Medical Examiner. The remains were confirmed Friday using dental records.

Malzahn spent 4.5 years in prison and on supervised release after being convicted of aggravated assault and resisting arrest.

The conviction stems from an April 2012 incident where Malzahn beat an intoxicated man and assaulted police outside Maloney’s Tavern at the intersection of East Aspen Avenue and North Leroux Street in Flagstaff.

Police attempted to arrest Malzahn after they witnessed him beating a severely intoxicated man outside the tavern, according to the police report.

Malzahn was standing over the victim, repeatedly hitting the man in the face to the point that he could not defend himself.

When police attempted to make the arrest he first attempted to run but then “squared up” in front of the arresting officer and began punching him in the head.

The victim Malzahn assaulted was transported to Flagstaff Medical Center and suffered a busted lip and extensive swelling to his face. Police stated that the “victim’s mouth was full of blood” when they attempted to treat him.

The assaulted officer had minor cuts and bruises to his face and head, according to the police report.

Malzahn was extremely intoxicated at the time of his arrest. He had a blood-alcohol content of 0.165 percent.

He told police that his attack was “retaliation” because the victim had punched him inside the bar.

Surveillance footage shows the victim touching Malzahn on the shoulder outside Maloney’s. Malzahn then gets into the brief argument with the man before attacking him. Surveillance footage did not show anybody hitting Malzahn.

Prison record

Malzahn’s prison record is mixed. He did not record a single infraction during his first year in prison. He received 11 disciplinary infractions from 2014 to 2016, according to the Arizona Department of Corrections. The infractions ranged from disorderly conduct to possession of contraband.

He worked as a groundskeeper, automotive technician and assisted in the health unit of the prison. Malzahn was released on supervised parole in November of 2016.

He completed supervised probation on June 13, 2017, and met Gorospe that summer after returning to Williams, where Gorospe was working as a summer tour guide for the Grand Canyon Railway. He carjacked his sister’s vehicle on Aug. 20 in Tempe and was arrested that same night in Williams. Gorospe was last seen bailing Malzahn out of Coconino County Jail on Oct. 6.

Malzahn is currently in custody in Phoenix after being arrested on unrelated assault charges and driving Gorospe’s blood-stained Rav4. Murder charges are pending the determination of the location where Gorospe was killed.

Runge says the exact crime scene has not been located but detectives think that area was the last place Gorospe was seen alive. Runge says evidence of vegetation in Gorospe's car is only found in Williams and one other place in Arizona.

Authorities believe the crime occurred fully or at least partially in Gorospe's car.

Runge says he hasn't heard any evidence indicating the homicide was premeditated and that DNA analysis of blood found in Gorospe's car is still pending.

A bail bondsman said he tried to talk Gorospe out of putting up cash for Malzahn multiple times before she did and later went missing.

The bail bondsman said Gorospe told him she went on dates with Malzahn and the teacher later said she loved him.

Malzahn’s stepfather is the Williams chief of police, who has said he has had little contact with his stepson in the past decade after his stepson dropped out of Williams High School in 2007. He has delegated all police matters regarding his stepson to other officers in the department.


Charlie Malzahn


Courtesy, Deer Valley Unified School District 

Cathryn Gorospe