Bench trial to begin for owner of allegedly abused elephant

"Nosey," the African elephant, was seized by Lawrence County officials in early November and is currently in the care of The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee.

Posted: Dec. 15, 2017 8:02 AM
Updated: Dec. 15, 2017 9:16 AM

The future of an allegedly abused elephant may be decided by the end of Friday.

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Hugo Liebel, the owner of "Nosey," the African elephant is set to appear for a bench trial at the Lawrence County Courthouse Friday morning.

On November 7, Lawrence County Animal Control Officer Kimberly Carpenter said she received "numerous complaints concerning an elephant and four miniature horses," according to her affidavit.

The original complaint said the animals were located on County Road 246 in Moulton where "their alleged owner had 'parked' and/or 'broken down' while in route to an unknown location."

In her affidavit, Carpenter notes that Nosey "was chained by her legs in such a manner that made it impossible for her to move and resulted in her having to stand in her own feces."

Carpenter goes on to claim that the animals didn't have food or water and the only shelters they had access to were the trailers in which they arrived.

The animals were then seized by court order on November 9 and Nosey was transported to The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee by November 10. Sanctuary officials would go onto say later that it costs about $5,900 per week to take care of Nosey.

Later that month on November 22, Liebel's attorney, William J. Underwood, from Tuscumbia, filed a motion to dismiss the case for a "lack of jurisdiction."

In the motion, Underwood argues the District Court doesn't have jurisdiction over exotic animals or matters worth more than $10,000. Underwood asserts that "An African elephant is worth more than $10,000."

Prosecutors challenged those assertions in later court filings saying in part that the motion to dismiss should be denied under the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure: "the assertion of defenses by motion to dismiss, allowed in the circuit court by Rule 12(b), is not available in the district court."

They also argued that because the plaintiffs are not seeking damages, the $10,000 limit doesn't apply in this case. They also said they will be able to prove at the hearing on December 15 that the defendants have about 200 violations of the Animal Welfare Act.

Underwood then filed another motion to dismiss on December 1, arguing that the plaintiffs "have not put up a bond in the amount of $500,000 for the value of the animals." In a later motion to dismiss filed on December 14, Underwood said Nosey was worth $1 million.

Later on December 4, Underwood filed a request to inspect Nosey by himself, Liebel and Nosey's veterinarian, Dr. Mark Wilson, up until that point. He said the reason for the request was because they "received information alleging that 'Nosey' has lost part of her tusk and there is swelling on the right side of her face."'

Underwood goes onto say that they believe Nosey "is not receiving proper care, and in fact being mistreated, at The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee."

Judge Angela Terry granted part of the request and allowed Dr. Wilson to see Nosey. A followup letter asked for permission for Underwood to be part of the visit and argued that Dr. Wilson didn't want to perform the inspection alone and suggested that "Nosey, nor the people at The Elephant Sanctuary, will allow him to get close enough to the animal to inspect her properly."

Judge Terry granted the updated request.

That same day, December 4, People for Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, sent a letter to Liebel and the Great American Family Circus.

In it, PETA announced their intent to sue Liebel and the circus within 60 days of sending the letter "unless the Liebels agree to Nosey's permanent transfer to a [Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries]-accredited sanctuary."

Since then, the defense has filed four more motions to dismiss, with three of them being filed Thursday afternoon, according to court records.

The bench trial is expected to proceed Friday morning at 9 a.m.

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