EVANSTON — A 37-year-old Evanston man was arrested by the Uinta County Sheriff’s Office on Jan. 31 on felony charges of cruelty to animals. The arrest of Justin Berry was related to an incident that occurred in the summer of 2020, when multiple horses were shot at a residence on Wasatch Road in Evanston and came after reports were received from the Wyoming State Crime Lab in late January.
According to a sheriff’s office report, Deputy Calvin Robinson responded to a call to a Wasatch Road address on the afternoon of July 1, 2020, regarding a horse that was found dead with a small bullet hole in the rib area. Kay Dunford, the owner of the horse, said he had called law enforcement after finding the horse deceased. Local veterinarian James Bechaver was also present.
Dunford reported the horse had been seen alive the prior evening. She appeared to have blood that had run down her front leg as well as blood that had come from her mouth. At that time, Dunford also reported a second horse in the pasture with a similar wound. That horse was wounded but alive and had a small hole on her right back hip with dried blood surrounding it.
The report said Bechaver cut into the deceased horse’s chest cavity and found it full of blood, with one of the lungs showing signs of trauma. After draining blood from the cavity, Bechaver located a bullet, which confirmed the horse had indeed been shot. The bullet appeared to be a round nose .22-caliber bullet, which was collected as evidence, according to the incident report.
Dunford said the horse that had been killed was once a racing horse that was raising a foal at the time and estimated her value at a minimum of $6,000, not including the value of future offspring she would never have.
On July 3, Robinson returned to the same address after Dunford called and reported he had found a similar wound on another horse that had been ill since around June 25. Dunford said the discovery of the bullet wounds on the two other horses resulted in him becoming suspicious and checking the sick horse for similar wounds — that’s when he found a small wound in the abdominal area. That horse had been previously diagnosed with peritonitis consistent with having a hole or rupture in the abdominal area.
That horse succumbed to its injury and infection a few days later, and Bechaver also cut into that horse and discovered two .22-caliber bullets in its abdomen. The second deceased horse was also raising a foal and was valued at approximately $15,000, according to the report.
Sheriff’s deputies questioned neighbors in the area to determine if anyone had seen or heard any suspicious activity, without success. Several neighbors reported it was not unusual for people to be shooting guns or setting off fireworks in the area.
On the evening of Friday, July 3, after the injuries to the third horse were discovered, deputies were patrolling the area of the Dunford property when Kim Putnam came by to feed the horses. He told deputies he had been fixing a fence on the Dunford property in May of 2020 when a man came out of a nearby house yelling and “cussing” at him. The man was later identified as Berry. Dunford also reported that a short time later, while still repairing the fence, he believed he heard a gunshot coming from the direction of Berry’s house.
With this information, Deputy Kerby Barker applied for and received a search warrant for Berry’s residence. When deputies arrived at the home to execute the warrant, Berry allegedly refused to speak with them — but his wife, Erin Mielke, spoke with them and explained there had been conflicts with some neighbors that leased property behind their house. She reportedly said Berry had been angry about a rumor that Putnam was going to put approximately 150 horses on the property behind their residence.
When deputies finally spoke with Berry, he allegedly said he remembered the interaction with Putnam several weeks previously but denied shooting at horses. He said he had been shooting a .22 rifle in the backyard.
A search of the residence revealed multiple firearms and ammunition throughout the home, including a Ruger 10/22 rifle. The sheriff’s office report states approximately 20 guns were in the home and seven were collected as potential evidence along with ammunition.
The guns and ammunition, along with the bullets retrieved from the bodies of the two deceased horses, were sent to the Wyoming State Crime Lab for analysis. The lab was reportedly backed up and it took several months to receive any results; however, on Jan. 20, the sheriff’s office was notified that the two bullets collected from the second horse were “identified as having been fired from the Ruger rifle” taken from Berry’s home. The report said the bullet retrieved from the first horse lacked sufficient markings to either identify or eliminate it as having been fired from the Ruger .22 rifle.
Uinta County Attorney Loretta Howieson-Kallas has charged Berry with three counts of felony animal cruelty. If convicted, Berry faces up to two years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines for each count.