Former animal control officer says he'll sue county

A longtime Jackson County animal control officer, fired after being accused of using his position to steal livestock, said he will sue the county for wrongful discharge.

"I did nothing to warrant termination," said Andy Ray Lane. "This was the perfect job for me. I get along with people and I loved the animals."

Lane's attorney, Lee Werdell of Medford, said a notice of intent to sue has been filed with the county and a lawsuit is pending. Werdell declined to specify what damages are being sought, but said Lane's union representative is working on getting his client's job back.

Lane, 54, worked for Jackson County Animal Care and Control for more than two decades. He was fired on Sept. 11, 2009, after being arrested in July for allegedly using his position to force a Wimer man to give him two horses and fencing in April, Lane said.

"I was trying to help that guy out, and protect the two horses," said Lane. "I can hold my head up high."

Lane said he was asked by a concerned neighbor last spring to perform a welfare check on two stallions being confined in a small pipe corral filled with buckbrush.

"There were two stud horses in really small corrals. The horses were in a bad way," said Lane.

Lane said the owner told Lane he was trying to sell the horses on Craigslist, but his efforts were proving unsuccessful. Rather than cite the owner for improper care of livestock, Lane said he would return in a week. When he did, the horses were still improperly housed in their own waste in a tiny corral. Lane said he offered to take the horses and the man agreed.

"He asked me to help," said Lane. "We can find the horses homes or you can pay the ($600-per-horse) ticket."

Lane and his former girlfriend returned to the property with Lane's horse trailer, removed the horses and took them to boarding stables on South Stage Road in Medford. Lane paid the man $150 for the pipe corral panels, he said.

"I never got a dime," said Lane. "I have no idea why the man complained. He was happy when I left. His girlfriend was hugging me."

But complaints were filed by the horses' former owner. Jackson County Detective Sgt. Colin Fagan called Lane in for questioning on July 23, 2009. Lane said he was stunned to be arrested after declining to answer questions without an attorney present.

"I try to do horse rescue where I can. But they were accusing me of being a horse thief," said Lane. "They put cuffs on me and put me in jail."

Arraigned in Jackson County Circuit Court after spending a night in jail on $34,000 bail, Lane was charged with two counts of theft by extortion, two counts of first-degree theft, two counts of coercion and one count of official misconduct.

Fagan said the sheriff's department received dozens of calls after Lane's arrest appeared in the media. Several were from people citing similar complaints, Fagan said.

Months of investigation failed to turn up a solid criminal case against Lane, said District Attorney Mark Huddleston. All seven charges were dismissed in August 2009.

Prosecutors stated charges might be reinstated against Lane if more evidence came to light. But on Friday Huddleston said he and others determined the case against Lane was not a matter for the criminal justice system.

"I looked at the facts of this case and felt the matter was best handled as an employee matter," Huddleston said.

Colleen Macuk, program director for the Jackson County Animal Care and Control Center, declined to comment on Lane's lawsuit or his termination. Macuk did say Lane's position within animal control, and that for a license compliance officer, were recently filled.

"We've been down two officers," said Macuk. "And we're feeling great we will be able to get back to serving the community with a full crew."

Lane said he is relieved to be out from under the threat of criminal charges. But he is determined to have his day in court — civil court.

"I couldn't even begin to tell you (what could compensate me)," Lane said. "They took my career away from me that I was good at. Nobody really likes a dogcatcher anyway. But I was a good public servant."

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail

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