Feds defer case after Havasupai man convicted of animal abuse in tribal court

Cecil Watahomigie was convicted in Havasupai tribal court of abusing at least one of the packing horses that tourists pay to help them through Havasupai Canyon. (Video: Nancy Harrison/12 News)

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - A Havasupai man will no longer face animal abuse charges in federal court after a tribal court convicted him of the same charges, according to a U.S. attorney. 

U.S. Attorney Paul Stearns announced Friday that Cecil Watahomigie was convicted of animal abuse and intoxication on a reservation in Havasupai tribal court, which deprives the U.S. government of jurisdiction in the case. 

The tribal court offered Watahomigie a plea offer that has not yet been made public, according to Stearns.

As a result, the federal government moved to dismiss its case at a hearing Friday. 

Watahomigie was arrested in September by the Bureau of Indian Affairs on two animal neglect charges and one charge of possession of alcohol on the reservation, where alcohol is illegal. 

He was accused of abusing at least one of the packing horses that tourists pay to help them through Havasupai Canyon. Another member of the tribe was also arrested on animal abuse charges last year

The Bureau of Indian Affairs said the Havasupai Tribe's animal control office adopted a horse body scoring system to ensure the animals' health. A Flagstaff veterinarian who gave medical attention to one of Watahomigie's horses said the horse was in worse condition than the regulations allowed. 

RELATED: BIA, Havasupai Tribe addressing challenges of horse abuse investigations

Tribal Chairman Don E. Watahomigie remarked,

“The Tribe is very concerned about the health and welfare of our animals.  So many of our tribal members rely on them for income, but they mean something more than just that to us. We have grown up around our horses and mules; cruelty is not the Havasupai way. With our tribal prosecutor and tribal judge, along with the animal control office, we are working diligently to identify those few tribal members who engage in this type of behavior and allow our tribal court system to prosecute such individuals.”  

© 2017 KPNX-TV


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