Student arrested over theft of Arkansas rodeo horses

December 6, 2011

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A freshman student from Southern Arkansas University who is a member of its rodeo team has been arrested in connection with the theft of five horses from its Mulerider Stables.

From left, prosecuting attorney David Butler, Southern Arkansas University police chief Eric Plummer, and SAU president Dr David Rankin.
Jaci Rae Jackson, 18, of McCurtain County, Oklahoma, was arrested during a traffic stop on Monday by the Arkansas State Police trooper Seth Penner.

University officials, when asked at a press conference, confirmed she was a first-year student at the university and was a member of its rodeo team.

The arrest came a month after the overnight raid on the stables in which five horses belonging to the members of the university's top-performing rodeo team were stolen on November 2. The offenders removed tack and used a horse trailer parked at the stables to remove the horses.

Four of the horses were recovered about two weeks later, tied to trees and apparently abandoned, in a heavily wooded area of McCurtain County.

The fifth horse, Credit Card, was found dead 23 days later.

Prosecuting attorney David Butler appeared to indicate it would be part of the prosecution case that Credit Card, a 15-year-old sorrel quarter horse gelding who belonged to rodeo team president Shaun Smith, was killed.

Southern Arkansas University police chief Eric Plummer said warrants had been issued for two other suspects in Oklahoma.

Plummer, in confirming the arrest of Jackson, said she was taken to the Columbia County Detention Facility and charged with six felony counts related to the theft.

The charges include three counts of theft of property over $25,000, which is a Class B felony, and three counts of theft of property between $5000 and $25,000, a Class C felony.

Jackson is also being held on three felony charges out of Oklahoma, including bringing stolen property into the state, knowingly concealing stolen property, and cruelty to animals.

No other warrants have been issued in Arkansas as of yet, but Plummer said more arrests were expected in the days and weeks to come.

"Our investigation is still ongoing," he said. "Other suspects are known to be involved. We will work this case until everyone involved is brought to justice."

Prosecuting attorney Butler, who spoke at a press conference today, thanked all law enforcement officers involved in what he described as a high profile and difficult case.

He predicted Jackson would be taken to court in a state prosecution, not a federal one. Butler said Jackson would be brought before a circuit judge tomorrow. "Then, I will be filing charges." A formal arraignment is scheduled for December 15.

Butler was saying little about the circumstances around the case, but said a probable-cause affidavit would be available from his office tomorrow, which would provide some details.

Butler said as part the case he was considering the charge of criminal mischief, noting that Jackson has been charged to date with theft.

In an apparent reference to the death of Credit Card, he said "The question was asked concerning whether or not one of the horses ... was killed in that situation and this is going to be part of this case and I am just determining whether or not criminal mischief is in addition to theft of property."

Ty Lester, left, with Grey, and Southern Arkansas University president Dr David Rankin.
Reporters were told that the two other suspects were not yet in custody, and they were subject to Oklahoma warrants.

Police Chief Plummer said: "We have been developing leads since day one ... our investigation information has led to several people of interest ... and, again, this will all come out when this goes to court."

Plummer and Butler would not be drawn on the alleged motive for theft of the horses, with Plummer adding that authorities were concentrating on building their case.

The high profile case was reported widely, as the hunt for the missing horses unfolded. Credit Card was stolen along with Grey, a seven-year-old grey mare; Badger, a 14-year-old black gelding; Lena, a 14-year-old buckskin mare; and a 10-year-old black mare simply called "Black Mare".

Eight days after the overnight November 2 raid on the stables, the McCurtain County Sheriff's Department recovered some of the saddles, blankets and other tack. It is understood the items were found, apparently abandoned, piled on some brush in a wooded area.

The hunt for the horses continued in earnest and the breakthrough came 13 days after the stable raid.

The university's rodeo coach, Rusty Hayes, searching with rodeo team member Ashley Mills, found Grey, Badger, Lena and Black Mare tied to trees in a heavily wooded area.

The search for Credit Card continued, but ended with the discovery of the quarter horse's remains.