Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

By Ron Warnick
QCS Senior Writer 

Man avoids jail in animal cruelty case


June 8, 2022

A former Tucumcari resident accused of extreme animal cruelty and felony drug charges avoided jail time but must pay fines of $7,000 and is forbidden from owning pets for three years in his sentencing Wednesday in a plea deal.

Ralph Fletcher, 32, was charged in April 2020 with drug trafficking of methamphetamine, distribution of marijuana or synthetic marijuana, extreme cruelty to animals and resisting, evading or obstructing an officer during an arrest. He pleaded guilty to all those counts — all which were felonies — except for resisting police, which was dismissed as part of the deal.

A Tucumcari police officer reported he saw Fletcher hovering over a brindle pitbull dog and strike the animal twice in the head or neck area while holding a chain-style leash. Seeing the officers, Fletcher fled into his house and resisted arrest. Narcotics were found in Fletcher’s home.

The dog later was given to a family member. Fletcher said he has not owned any animals since.

In early 2019, Fletcher also was charged with extreme animal cruelty after being accused by a Tucumcari police officer of choking and injuring a pitbull puppy.

A jury of nine women and three men deadlocked 9-3 in favor of conviction but failed to reach a required unanimous verdict during Fletcher’s trial later that year. He was scheduled to face a retrial in August 2020 on a charge of misdemeanor animal cruelty, but that never occurred. That charge later was dismissed in the plea deal.

District Judge Albert Mitchell Jr., during sentencing Wednesday by videoconference, imposed on Fletcher these conditions:

• A suspended 13-year prison sentence;

• A $5,000 fine that must be paid within the first 18 months of probation;

• A $2,000 fine that must be paid within the first 12 months of probation;

• Pay all fees and costs;

• Being forbidden from having pets for three years;

• Submit to alcohol or drug screening;

• Undergo counseling for 12 months, with an emphasis on decision making;

• Submit a DNA sample to the state’s database;

• Five years of supervised probation.

Deputy District Attorney Thomas Blakeney urged a stiffer sentence, saying Fletcher’s conduct was “very dangerous and damaging to the community.”

Fletcher’s attorney, Brett Phelps of Las Vegas, made a plea for leniency. He noted Fletcher is holding down two part-time jobs, with no brushes with the law since early 2020.

“He’s shown over the last two years he has followed court orders,” Phelps said. “He can go out and be a productive member of society. … He wasn’t a big-time drug kingpin in this situation.”

Fletcher, upon questioning by Mitchell, talked about what would happen if he were sent to jail. Fletcher said “everything I’ve worked for stops. I wouldn’t have a roof over my head. I wouldn’t have my two jobs. I wouldn’t be able to contact my mother and my family.”

“I’ve been doing the best I can and changing my life. I don’t associate with the crowd I used to,” Fletcher added.

Mitchell noted the case had been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Fletcher had stayed out of trouble during that time.

“Mr. Fletcher, because of the delay of this matter coming to trial, you got an opportunity to make a lot better choices,” Mitchell said. “You need to keep that in mind going forward. You need to keep doing that, because you don’t want to come back and talk to us.”

Asked to comment about Fletcher’s sentence via email, Phelps wrote: “This was a fair outcome under the circumstances. Mr. Fletcher has made many positive improvements in his life in the two years since this incident occurred and is deserving of a chance on probation. Mr. Fletcher is no longer living in Quay County. He has moved on to new opportunities where he can better himself and hopefully put this chapter of his life behind him.”


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