Meeting attendees differ on livestock stops

PINEDALE – A mixed group of horse people and cattle ranchers visited the Pinedale Library on Dec. 30, curious about a proposed discussion of the county’s enforcement of state brand inspection laws.

Many of the 24-plus people there said they support Sublette County deputies frequently stopping trucks and livestock trailers to check for proper paperwork under Wyoming State Statute 11-21-103a. 

Rock Springs veterinarian Rex Rammell reserved the library meeting room on Dec. 30 and invited the public to talk about the state law, which allows law enforcement to stop and search a livestock trailer to ensure owners have proper brand inspections when moving stock between counties. 

A Sublette County deputy stopped Rammell on June 27 as he moved his horses from Sweetwater County to a local pasture for the summer. He did not have brand inspections to move the horses between counties and was given five citations; he pleaded not guilty on the grounds that the stop was unconstitutional without probable cause. Rammell said in court he knew the law but did not believe it was constitutional.

Circuit Court Magistrate Clay Kainer agreed with Rammell, ruling that the deputy’s arrest report was inadmissible as evidence at the now-canceled Jan. 14 trial because the deputy did not have probable cause to stop him. 

It could set a precedent for the law and led Sublette County Sheriff K.C. Lehr to advise deputies to not pull anyone else over without probable cause. 

Sublette County Attorney Mike Crosson filed a motion to reverse and vacate the Kainer ruling, from which Judge Curt Haws previously recused himself. Judge Haws has transferred the motion to Albany County Circuit Court Judge Robert Castor. 

Rammell said before the meeting he wanted to know how local livestock owners feel about having Sublette County deputies enforce that law by pulling over trucks with trailers. 

The meeting also appeared to be advertised in part about brucellosis, which was not discussed in the first two hours. 

The local cattle ranchers present Monday gave strong support for the law enforcement stops, saying the Green River Cattlemen’s Association asked the sheriff to help enforce that law and potentially deter livestock thefts. The state’s efforts are limited after the Wyoming Livestock Board was cut to one investigator statewide to check on missing and possibly stolen livestock. 

State brand inspector Mike Vickrey of Pinedale attended, as did livestock owners with pastures in a variety of counties. Off-duty Deputy Justin Hays, one who has conducted livestock trailer checks, said he was there as an interested person. 

Farson rancher Melissa Meisner, who was cited for moving her cattle without brand inspections, was also present and said she understood she broke the law; she said the County Attorney’s Office worked with her on paying penalties. 

Rammell said he believes very little livestock rustling occurs here and while brand inspections between a buyer and a seller “are very helpful,” he does not believe in requiring brand inspections between counties. 

“I’m trying to walk a fine line between too much police enforcement and not enough,” he said, adding that the current brand inspection law is “excessive.”

Most of those present Monday said they greatly appreciate having deputies stop them to check for paperwork. One rancher said losing even two cows to theft could be devastating. 

Rancher and horseman Steve James said, “If we hadn’t spent the last 60, 70, 80 years putting brand inspection laws together, with the number of cattle we have here … in today’s world of horse trailers and pens for panels – how easy would it be (to steal livestock) without brand inspection laws?” 

Several people who moved to Wyoming four years ago said they feel deputies overstep the boundaries; another “newcomer” said he understood that checking brand inspections in-county makes sense for such a large landscape. 

Horse owners were advised to get $25 “lifetime permits” from a brand inspector. 

Rammell wanted to talk about private rights against “a bad law.” “I made a Fourth Amendment argument (before Magistrate Kainer in court) based on the Constitution that you have to have reasonable suspicion or probable cause to stop someone,” he said. “Lo and behold he supported my argument that law enforcement cannot just stop people without reasonable suspicion. Does the state follow the statutes or does the state follow the constitution? Laws that conflict with the constitution are unconstitutional.” 

Chris Sullivan and others said they thank deputies who pull them over to check their paperwork. 

“If you cross county lines, if I get pulled over (without papers) I’m screwed,” Sullivan said, adding that Rammell was trying to stretch and twist the issue too far. 

Jim Jensen of Sublette and Fremont counties said, “You have people here who want their freedom, and you have people here who want their brand inspections.” 

A woman objected to being pulled over with an empty horse trailer: “We’re not anti-cops but we believe in private property rights. The cops need to be held accountable.” 

James suggested if someone stole their horses they would want a deputy to pull someone over and check for paperwork. He said he believed deputies had probable cause to pull Rammell over because his truck had an out-of-county plate. 

“Would you violate my constitutional rights so you can sleep better,” Rammell asked James. He said he could not believe conservative Wyomingites are willing to allow stops and searches without probable cause. 

“The laws we have might take 15 minutes of my time,” James said. “What if your horse was stolen?”

“I’d rather lose my horse than lose my freedom,” Rammell replied. “I don’t want them stopping me.”