Roughly three dozen horses will be returned to a Lee County man charged with neglecting them.
The Lee County Sheriff’s office removed the horses from property owned by Jeffrey Graber of Donnellson in late January. The action came several weeks after Graber was arrested and charged with multiple counts of animal neglect.
The horses were placed with rescue facilities across southeast Iowa over concerns they were not receiving enough food and water.
District Court Judge Mary Ann Brown ruled Wednesday afternoon that the horses must be returned to Graber.
She said the Sheriff's office should have issued a notice to Graber that the horses were being "rescued" and not "seized," which is what Graber was told.
Sheriff Jim Sholl says he does not regret the decision to remove the horses.
"We do think we are right in this matter," says Sholl. "It is unfortunate a procedural error forces the return of those horses."
Sholl says he is hopeful that the horses have been away long enough to have regained their health.
He says a plan will be developed to return the horses to Graber, with his department likely absorbing the associated costs.
The ruling does not alter the animal neglect charges still pending against Graber.