Since August, allegations of animal code infractions, controversial euthanization of a dog, misconduct in an animal abuse case and even a restraining order fight have enveloped Debi DeNardi, the society's captain of field services.
But after 21/2 months of investigating, the San Mateo County District Attorney's Office will still use DeNardi as a prosecution witness in an animal-abuse case. Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said that, save for a felony charge of forgery and embezzlement that DeNardi had in the early 1990s, no other allegations could be substantiated. His office, he said, will take any risk of questionable credibility with a jury.
Janet Wherry, the owner of Triple Springs Ranch on San Mateo Road in Half Moon Bay, faces cruelty charges, allegedly involving a maggot-infested sheep found on her property in August 2005. Wherry has had a 12-year history of troubles with the humane society last July, she had 11 animals seized from her property after numerous complaints of improper care.
Late last year, Wherry claimed DeNardi had engaged in about half a dozen improprieties in her capacity as a lead humane investigator. Among them,Wherry charged, livestock were stolen by DeNardi because they were improperly seized. Worried about witness credibility in Wherry's case, the District Attorney's Office vetted her complaints.
But Wagstaffe said they couldn't find anything. DeNardi's felony charge from the'90s of taking nearly $96,000 from her own family's Floortrends store in San Francisco was reduced to a misdemeanor and dismissed, Wagstaffe said. He added that everything turned up in the investigation will be turned over to the defense; it will be left to the jury to decide if DeNardi's past is a problem.
"It's relevant to the defense in terms of what happened there, but in the end, it does not cause us to change our charge that Ms. Wherry abused this animal," Wagstaffe said.
Wherry, who fired her attorney last year, will be assigned a public defender in preparation for a pretrial conference Feb. 22. The case is set to go to trial April 2.
DeNardi also came under the gun after the owner of a 13-year-old Alaskan Malamute, euthanized in August at the San Mateo Animal Hospital while DeNardi was present, alleged that laws were broken during the incident.
A complaint filed with the San Mateo Police Department in October was investigated and turned over to the District Attorney as well.
Wagstaffe would not comment on whether his office would press charges, because he had just sent a letter to the dog owner Tuesday morning with his decision, he said. But it seems all but certain that charges will not be filed.
Wagstaffe said he did not consider whether the correct decision was made to euthanize the dog, but rather, whether any actions before, during or after putting the dog down constituted a crime.
Earlier that month, Colma police said they were investigating whether DeNardi had violated municipal codes by breeding dogs and keeping livestock at her Mission Road property without permits.
DeNardi told the Times she never heard anything from town officials, and calls made by the Times to inquire about the case have not been returned.
The alleged infractions were brought to the police's attention by Redwood City resident Jim Knapp after someone e-mailed photos to him of goats and a miniature horse on DeNardi's property.
Knapp, the self-appointed president of a watchdog group called Citizens for Accountability, has been vocal about his concerns over DeNardi's behavior since the initial complaint. He is also a neighbor of the woman who filed the wrongful-euthanasia complaint and has had recent interactions with Wherry, which officials believe may have greased her misconduct allegations.
DeNardi attempted to file a temporary restraining order against Knapp, but a judge threw it out in December for lack of evidence.
DeNardi, who now oversees not just humane investigations, but all public services for PHS such as picking up strays and quarantines could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Staff writer Rebekah Gordon can be reached at (650) 306-2428 or firstname.lastname@example.org.