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Former ranch owner wins Fourth Amendment suit against county

Published On: May 05 2013 05:00:17 PM CDT   Updated On: May 05 2013 11:09:11 PM CDT

MADISON, Wis. -

On Wednesday a federal court awarded a woman convicted of mistreating animals nearly $200,000.

Jennifer Petkus filed a lawsuit against Richland County, accusing the county of "unreasonable search and seizure," according to federal court documents.

Petkus owned the Thyme and Sage Ranch in Cazenovia when it was searched in May 2009. There were 190 animals seized, with authorities citing poor living conditions.

The ranch considered itself an animal rescue facility and had been in operation since 2001. It also held a contract to operate as the official shelter for Richland County.

Petkus was found guilty of six misdemeanors in 2011, including intentionally mistreating animals. She was sentenced to three years of probation.

Federal court documents filed in May 2012 showed Petkus accused Richland County of being negligent while supervising around 100 people who searched Petkus's property in 2009.

Petkus claimed those individuals damaged and stole her personal property.

In federal court documents, Richland County and Wilson Mutual Insurance Co. denied most of the allegations Petkus put forth.

A jury sided with Petkus this month that her property was damaged or taken during the search of her premises and that it was not reasonably necessary to the duties of the law enforcement officials.

The jury also decided Richland County's deliberate indifference caused the damage to Petkus's property and Richland County was negligent in performing the search on Petkus's property.

Petkus was awarded $133,480 to compensate for damage caused to her property and another $60,000 to compensate for violating Petkus's Fourth Amendment right.

WISC-TV reached Petkus by phone, who called her the court's decision a victory. But she also said she didn't want to comment further because the case isn't necessarily over.

That's because Richland County can decide to appeal the most recent federal court decision.

That decision will play out over the next several weeks.

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