ND rancher changes plea in animal neglect case


DICKINSON, N.D.—A southwest North Dakota rancher accused of animal neglect changed his plea on Monday, Feb. 26, at the Stark County Courthouse in Dickinson.

Gerald "Gary" Dassinger of Gladstone was previously charged with three counts of animal cruelty, a Class C felony, and six counts of animal neglect, a Class A misdemeanor. However, following a change of plea hearing held Monday, the three Class C felony charges of animal cruelty were dismissed.

Dassinger pleaded guilty to the remaining six misdemeanor counts.

Dassinger's jury trial was previously scheduled to start on Monday.

The case stems from a call in April 2017 to the Stark County Sheriff's Office about alleged neglected animals on Dassinger's ranch.

Court documents pertaining to the misdemeanor charges allege Dassinger "willfully failed to provide food and water that was appropriate for the species and breed and sufficient to sustain the animal's health" and that he "further failed to provide medical attention in the event of an injury or illness, as appropriate for the species or breed."

In addition to ordering a presentence investigation, something that is standard in most criminal cases, Southwest District Judge Rhonda Ehlis also ordered a risk assessment to be carried out by the North Dakota state veterinarian. The assessment will assess what Dassinger has to do to maintain the health of his animals, including to determine what the best amount of animals he should keep, Dassigner's attorney Thomas Murtha and Stark County Assistant State's Attorney Amanda Engelstad said.

Dassinger was allowed to keep his animals following a civil case that lasted for several days last June.

There was no date set for sentencing in the case. The attorneys chose to wait to share their proposed agreement until sentencing as there were still areas that needed further discussion. However, they noted they did have an agreement.

A Class A misdemeanor faces up to 365 days in jail.