Yelm man accused of growing pot, abusing sheep

Bail was set at $2,500 for a Yelm man accused of abusing his 11 sheep and growing marijuana at his home.

Robert L. Ritzman appeared before Thurston County Superior Court Judge Anne Hirsch on Tuesday afternoon. She found probable cause for 11 counts of second-degree animal cruelty, unlawful possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver and unlawful manufacture of a controlled substance.

The judge also prohibited Ritzman from having any contact with any animals.

But Office of Assigned Counsel attorney John Hansen, who represented Ritzman at the hearing, argued that there was no need for the judge to impose bail. He said Ritzman had no criminal history, and that since the defendant had lived in the same place for more than 20 years he wasn’t a flight risk.

“I don’t understand asking a man with 20 years of history at the address to post bond,” Hansen said.

But Hirsch said that since Ritzman’s alleged crimes were so serious she thought bail was appropriate.

Until he posts bail, Ritzman will be held in the Thurston County Jail.

According to court documents, the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office began investigating Ritzman on Feb. 19 after receiving an anonymous letter from one of his neighbors. The neighbor wrote that the sheep hadn’t been sheared, and that the wool is so long and heavy that the animals would freeze to the ground.

The neighbor also reported that when the sheep die they are left in the field for days, and that lambs often starve because their mothers’ wool is so dense they can’t feed.

A detective drove to Ritzman’s home, located on the 15000 block of Molly Court SE, and found 11 adult sheep and two dead lambs, according to court documents. She reported that the wool on the sheep was so thick that it “weighed them down immensely.”

The detective contacted Ritzman by phone, and he allegedly told her that he stopped shearing the sheep 20 years ago because he has a bad back. He also told her that the dead lambs weren’t unusual – that only about 50 percent of lambs survive, according to court documents.

A veterinarian told the detective that it’s not normal for so many sheep to die, and that it is inhumane for sheep to never be sheared.

On Monday afternoon, the detective served a search warrant at the home and confiscated the sheep, according to court documents. Hooved Animal Rescue of Thurston County assisted and found foster homes for the animals.

Five rams and six ewes were recovered. One of the rams had hoof rot. One of the ewes was about to give birth, and another may have also been pregnant. All of the animals were extremely thin, and many had parasites or skin conditions, according to court documents.

The detective also discovered that the sheep didn’t have access to water unless it rained.

While searching for sheep medication, the detective discovered marijuana plants. Ritzman’s home also smelled of marijuana, according to court documents.

A Thurston County judge amended the warrant to allow law enforcement to search for marijuana. Deputies found enough marijuana to fill four 55-gallon garbage cans, along with materials used to dry and process marijuana, according to court documents.

The Thurston County Prosecutor’s Office has 72 hours from the arrest to charge Ritzman.

His arraignment was set for March 24.