RICHMOND -- A man whose sick horses were seized by animal services agents in the El Sobrante hills a year ago as a television crew recorded the action is supposed to answer felony cruelty-to-animals charges in court next week.
The accused, Julio Cesar Nungaray Guzman, said last year he was medicating and nursing the animals to health and that the Contra Costa County Animal Services Department is making an example of him after a television report depicted it as sluggish and unresponsive.
A complaint filed by the Contra Costa District Attorney's Office and based on statements attributed to Animal Services Officer T. DeCosta alleges that Nungaray "did unlawfully ... deprive of necessary sustenance, drink, and shelter, cruelly beat, mutilate, and kill a horse named Chili ... a horse named Nikki ... a horse named Tahoe ... (and) a horse named Paradise" around April 2012.
In fact, the horses all were rounded up, alive, by the county agency, three of them on April 18, 2012, as a KTVU Channel 2 helicopter hovered overhead; the fourth horse ran off, to be hauled away by officials the next day. All four horses were nursed back to health at the agency's shelter and eventually placed with horse rescue organizations, Animal Services Director Glenn Howell said in an email earlier this month.
The agency's deputy director, Rick Golphin, last week said the language on the complaint was generated by the District Attorney's Office and reflects a penal code section that refers to an array of offenses, any one of which by itself would constitute a violation.
"We believe that Mr. Nungaray failed to provide necessary sustenance and subjected the animals to needless suffering," Golphin said in an email. "All of the horses were medically treated and then re-homed. None of these four Nungaray horses (Chili, Tahoe, Nikki or Paradise) were euthanized."
The deputy district attorney handling the case, Jordan Sanders, was unavailable to comment last week and has not responded to another inquiry this week.
Nungaray, who at the time was working as a veterinarian's helper at Golden Gate Fields and kept horses, some retired from the racetrack, in the El Sobrante hills as a sideline, said last year that four of his 10 horses had gotten sick and that he was treating and medicating them.
In May, Howell said that when his department impounded the four Nungaray horses, they were "grossly underweight, with a skin condition commonly called rain rot." Earlier that month, Howell said there was some indication that the horses had started to get some hair back but that the feed they were getting was inadequate for their condition.
Nungaray said he already was supplementing the horses' diet when Animal Services seized them. He said the agency was throwing the book at him to salvage its wounded reputation from an earlier Channel 2 broadcast that questioned the agency's lack of response after another horse owner pointed out Nungaray's sick horses; soon after, the agency sprang into action. But Howell last year said his agency does not act in response to media pressure.
Nungaray has not responded to recent messages from this newspaper left with two horse owners in the area who said they know him.