Forty head of undernourished cattle seized from pastures near Bangs will be sold at auction, and the owner was fined $6,000 after pleading guilty to two counts of cruelty to animals.
Proceeds from the sale of the cattle will pay 59-year-old Rumaldo Zapata’s fine, and will be used to reimburse the county and the Brownwood Cattle Auction for the feeding and storage of the animals, according to an agreement worked out by Assistant Brown County Attorney Ryan Locker and Zapata’s attorney, Charles McDonald of Bangs.
The agreement was cemented in back-to-back hearings Tuesday afternoon before Brown County Court-at-Law Judge Frank Griffin and Justice of the Peace Bob Wall.
Griffin accepted Zapata’s guilty pleas in the two cases and approved the agreement. Wall then drafted an order for the cattle to be sold.
Proceeds from the sale will also be used to pay the costs of rounding up and transporting the cattle and will pay McDonald’s $500 retainer and a $65 bill for a veterinarian consultation, the agreement specifies. The total to be taken from the sale proceeds so far is $1,855, but the amount will grow higher since the cattle will remain at the Brownwood Cattle Auction until the next auction, which is probably in about a week, officials said.
Cruelty to animals is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in the county jail and a fine of up to $4,000.
Zapata said little during the court proceedings. His wife, who would not give her first name, said she and her husband had been feeding the cattle but acknowledged the animals were on the thin side because of the drought.
“They were way past,” Sheriff’s Sgt. David Mercer said. “They say they feed them but it’s not near enough. “We’re not head-hunting for cattle ranches. Most ranchers here know how to take care of their cattle. If times are too bad, they need to get rid of them.”
Justice of the Peace Jim Cavanaugh signed seizure orders last week directing sheriff’s officials to seize the cattle after two people told authorities the animals appeared to be starving. The cattle were in pastures off county roads 159 and 171.
Mercer said earlier that the cattle were “extremely, extremely” starved.
Locker told the Zapatas there had been yet another complaint made that they were not properly feeding cattle at a third pasture, off County Road 105.
“You need to direct your attention to those immediately,” Locker said. “We just want to put you on notice to ensure the health of those animals.”
Sheriff’s officials said there are about a dozen head in that pasture but the animals there haven’t reached the condition of the cattle that were seized.
As the court proceedings concluded, Zapata and his wife told sheriff’s officials who were present — Mercer, Sheriff Bobby Grubbs, Capt. Ellis Johnson and maintenance officer Les Rush — that deputies have ignored reports the Zapatas have made thefts at their property and the shooting of livestock.
Grubbs gave the Zapatas his business card and assured him his department will investigate any crimes they report. He told them to call deputies if they have any problems.
“What’s in the past is in the past,” Grubbs said. “We’re going to help you if we can. We don’t enjoy being in this position with you.”
Mercer said he didn’t recall any reports of criminal activities made by the Zapatas but said he would check to see if any were on record at the sheriff’s office.
After the hearing, Locker said the problem with the Zapatas’ cattle was one of “density — too much cattle on too little land. Nobody’s denying times are tough right now but that’s something you have to allow for as a rancher.”
An arrest warrant for Zapata had been issued Monday. After Tuesday’s hearings, sheriff’s officials told Zapata he needed to go to the jail, where he would be processed in and immediately processed out.