Woman facing animal fighting, drug charges pleads not guilty
A Pierce County woman pleaded not guilty to animal fighting and drug charges Friday, Oct. 9, after her lawyers unsuccessfully tried getting her drug charges tossed.
Senyen Vang is facing 43 felony counts related to animal fighting, a felony drug charge and several misdemeanors. At Friday's preliminary hearing, Vang's defense attempted to argue she had no connection to how the drugs were found.
The animal charges and drug charges are separate cases, but are playing out at the same hearings.
Vang's charges stem from Aug. 30, when U.S. marshals arrested her partner Houa Dia Yang, and on arrival they allegedly found evidence of extensive drug and animal-fighting operations.
Pierce County Sheriff's Office deputies searched the rural Spring Valley property and found over 4 pounds of methamphetamine on the property and items related to growing marijuana, and found training cages and items for roosters and dogs, according to charges filed in the case. Authorities allege there were 20 dogs on property — many of which had wounds consistent with dogfighting — and about 1,700 chickens, some of which had been modified for cockfighting — along with three goats.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals assisted local police and have been handling care for the animals. The organization absorbs caretaking costs and estimated the first 30-day cost of care for the animals at $496,755.
A pre-trial conference for the charges was set for 11:30 a.m. Jan. 22.
Vang's defense lawyer John Arechigo argued there was insufficient evidence to move forward with the drug charges, but Court Commissioner Jorv Gavic denied that attempt.
In testimony, Pierce County Sheriff's Office Investigator Marty Shepler said Vang arrived during the search of her property and asked if she could gather personal belongings.
While gathering her belongings, the deputy asked Vang to pour the belongings out and a safe inside a backpack was found.
Shepler said he opened the safe and found over 4 pounds of meth in the safe, wrapped in several layers of foil and grease. He said at the trial the drugs are consistent with gang-related trade, like drug cartels.
This wrapping method is typical in large amounts, and used to help prevent the drugs from being found, he said.
When questioned by Arechigo, Shepler said he did not have a separate search warrant to open the safe and acknowledged there was a difference between his recollection of how the safe was discovered compared to the deputy's official complaint.
Arechigo argued there was no solid connection between Vang and the backpack.
"There is nothing in the record that shows she carried this backpack, was never asked about the backpack ... all she knew was that she was grabbing her clothes," he said.
Gavic acknowledged there were "interesting facts" in regards to property retrieval, but denied Arechigo's request.
In addition the meth possession charges, Vang is charged with possession of marijuana, drug paraphernalia and obstructing an officer.
District Attorney Sean Froelich called on ASPCA investigator Bekah Weitz and county investigator Tom Bauer to detail the dog- and cock-fighting evidence at the Yang residence.
Bauer said Vang had told police during their initial search she owned the animals, and police found animal feed invoices with her name on them.
Weitz said the dogs —pitbulls — were outfitted with long, heavy chains, along with numerous other things designed to increase their strength and stamina. The investigation found modified treadmills to train dogs and tools for dog fighting, she said.
Roosters were found with modified spurs, an inner leg growth for defense, that Weitz said are typical for cockfighting. Numerous flight cages used to strengthen the roosters, and other structures for training them were found on the property as well, she testified.
Arechigo questioned if the flight cages, which cause roosters to fly up to higher-than-normal perches to strengthen them for fighting, could be used for other purposes.
"The only possible reason I could think of is if someone was trying to place them into a competitive show," Weitz responded. "[And] that's really speculative."
Froelich argued that Vang's alleged ownership of the animals "signify [she] knows what is going on with the animals."
Arechigo and Vang's other attorney Chris Bub did not attempt to have the animal charges thrown out.