Crime and Safety

Iowa woman, charged with 14 counts of animal neglect, disappeared right after she was told that she was charged

A series of arrest warrants have been issued for a lady from central Iowa who vanished after being accused of 14 crimes of animal abuse.

Michelle Renee Evans, 56, is charged in the warrants with failing to appear in court and breaking the terms of her pretrial release agreement. According to court documents, Evans has lived in the communities of Bridgewater, Adair County, and Anita, Cass County.

Evans has pled guilty to six counts of animal cruelty in Adair County and not guilty to eight counts in Cass County. State officials and her own attorneys have lost communication with her in recent months, and her whereabouts remain unclear.

Friday, Cass County Attorney Vanessa Strazdas remarked, “I have no way of knowing where she is.” “She has not been apprehended by law enforcement for any other reason. She will likely return at some point, but until then, let’s just hold our breath.”

According to court documents, Evans was arrested in March of 2021. At that time, authorities stated that in July 2020, a friend of Evans brought nine of Evans’ dogs to AHeinz57 Pet Rescue and Transport in DeSoto to be adopted. Amy Heinz, the executive director of the rescue organization, reportedly informed police officers that all nine canines had “horribly matted fur” that was plagued with fleas. Due to flea-bite anemia, one dog needed a blood transfusion at an animal hospital.

The following day, members of the animal rescue organization went to Evans’ property in Bridgewater in response to a request to remove seven additional dogs, five of which had to be transported to a veterinary hospital in Des Moines for medical care. Dr. Alexandria Baltes, a veterinarian at the hospital, reported to the police that she believed several of the canines she treated had incurred “severe harm” as defined under Iowa law.

A few days later, when police executed a search warrant at the Bridgewater home of Evans, they discovered “excessive animal excrement” inside. According to court documents, at least 33 living pets and 12 dead dogs were retrieved from the property. A few weeks later, Evans signed into a “deferred prosecution deal,” as described by police records.

Adair County authorities charged Evans with six charges of animal mistreatment inflicting unreasonable pain, anguish, or suffering, resulting in significant damage or death, in March 2021, alleging that Evans had violated the terms of the agreement. Each charge stemming from the 2020 inquiry is a misdemeanor of the second degree.

A few months later, on August 26, 2021, authorities in Cass County charged Evans with eight charges of animal negligence with harm and issued an arrest warrant for her. According to police records, Evans went from Bridgewater to the hamlet of Anita, where she was caring for at least eight neglected dogs.

A few weeks later, on September 17, 2021, Evans was granted pretrial release in the Adair County case under the condition that she have no contact with dogs, cats, or domestic animals.

In November, Guthrie County Attorney Brenna Bird, who was prosecuting the Adair County case owing to a conflict of interest in the Adair County prosecutor’s office, filed court documents alleging that Evans had refused to submit to a mental health evaluation. Bird told the court that the state is gravely concerned for the welfare of any animals in her care.

Bird requested that Evans be subjected to electronic monitoring, a substance addiction evaluation and treatment, and a mental health evaluation while on release, and that she be “visited to ensure there are no animals in her apartment or any other location she may be staying.”

The court granted Evans 72 hours to make arrangements for supervision with the Fifth Judicial District Department of Correctional Services.

In March 2022, Evans’ court-appointed attorney withdrew from the Adair County case, stating that he had lost communication with Evans, who was not answering his calls or emails. In May, Evans pled guilty to six counts of animal cruelty in Adair County, and an investigation of his sentencing was ordered. In the same month, a warrant was issued for Evans’ arrest in the Cass County case for failure to appear in court.

The Department of Correctional Services notified the Adair County court in July that it was unable to locate Evans in order to conduct a presentence investigation. In this case, a warrant was issued for Evans’ arrest. In the same month, a second arrest warrant for Evans was issued in Cass County, this time for failing to appear for a pretrial meeting.

Approximately at the same time, Evans’ counsel objected to AHeinz56 Pet Rescue’s request to deliver a victim’s statement to the court at sentencing, stating that the group was “not a proper third-party victim in this case.”

The court stated that it would address this issue during Evans’ sentencing hearing. The probation officer assigned to Evans during her pretrial release in the Adair County case reported to the court that she had lost contact with Evans before the scheduled hearing. The court subsequently canceled the sentencing hearing, cancelled Evan’s pretrial release, and issued an arrest warrant for him.

Both the criminal cases in Cass County and Adair County are now active. A trial that was previously planned for July in Cass County has been canceled. The most recent sentencing hearing set for August 19 in Adair County has been canceled. The arrest warrants for Evans remain active.

Strazdas, the Cass County prosecutor, stated that she had no reason to believe Evans was conducting a business involving the dogs, such as dog breeding.

Strazdas stated, “I have no reason to believe she was a dealer.” “She simply attracts dogs, for lack of a better expression… I don’t believe it was for reproduction or profit.”

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