Hanover-area woman facing trial, accused of 106 counts of animal cruelty, trying to run over cop
A West Manheim Township woman is now facing trial, accused of fleeing from police and trying to run over two law-enforcement officials for removing pets from alleged "abhorrent" conditions in her home.
During a Zoom video hearing, Michelle Baldwin made multiple accusations against the Humane Society police officer who handled her case. Her defense attorney had little success in reining her in.
"Relax," attorney Jeremy Williams replied after Baldwin said, "They did not have a search warrant. They stole my dogs."
Court records show Humane Police Officer Ame Kessler did obtain a search warrant, signed by a judge, before seizing Baldwin's dogs and cats.
Baldwin, 56, of the 100 block of Valley View Road, waived her right to preliminary hearings on her aggravated-assault and animal-cruelty cases when she appeared via Zoom on Wednesday afternoon before District Judge Jeffrey Sneeringer.
Senior deputy prosecutor Jennifer Tobias told the judge that the charges — including 106 counts of felony and misdemeanor animal cruelty — were being waived into court in exchange for Baldwin being considered for admission to the county's mental-health treatment court.
Williams told the judge that "there may be room for amendment or withdrawal" of some of the charges, if appropriate.
'Stop talking': Despite opting out of her hearings, Baldwin tried to argue her case to Sneeringer, making repeated allegations against Kessler.
"This woman said she took 13 dogs when I have 15," Baldwin said. "I want to know where the other two are. Everything she wrote on the (court documents) is a lie."
"Stop talking," Williams repeatedly told his client, but she ignored his legal advice. He did not return a phone message seeking comment after the proceeding.
Baldwin claimed Kessler killed her dogs. Officials said the seized animals remain in protective custody, and that some required veterinary treatment.
Baldwin's home has been condemned. Kessler has said conditions inside amounted to one of the worst animal-neglect cases she's seen in her career.
Baldwin previously told The York Dispatch in an email that she didn’t try to run over police. She also said she’s spent her life helping dogs.
She was previously found guilty of animal cruelty, according to court records.
The background: Kessler began a new investigation last fall after receiving reports that Baldwin was neglecting her pets. The humane officer described the case as an animal hoarding-type situation.
West Manheim Township Police assisted Kessler and York County SPCA Field Agent Otto Cruz at the scene because Baldwin had threatened Kessler, according to charging documents.
Seized were 15 dogs, three cats and six cockatiels, court documents state, as well as the carcasses of a dog, a cat and one bird. Some of the animals were underweight, Kessler confirmed, and the carcasses were decomposing.
'Abhorrent': West Manheim Township Police previously described conditions inside Baldwin's home as abhorrent.
Charging documents state there was debris, trash, fresh and desiccated feces, stagnant water and clothing strewn around the first floor.
On the second floor of the split-level home, the main hallway was down to the subflooring and covered in feces, documents state.
The master bedroom door was barricaded shut with pet crates and the floor was soft and wet with urine, according to documents.
"Inside were 12 dogs (4 locked in crates in their own feces and urine causing burns to the pads of their paws)," plus cats and birds, according to court documents.
The bathtub in the attached master bathroom was filled with nearly black water, with plywood panels over the top of it that were covered with feces, documents state.
Home condemned: Four of the dogs taken from the home that day had to be carried out — one on a stretcher "due to the bodily injury caused by the conditions in which they were kept," according to court documents.
"The house was condemned that evening," Kessler said after the seizure. "We had masks on. In hindsight, we probably should have had respirators."
Police allege Baldwin tried to run over Cruz and township police Sgt. Toby Wildasin with her Ford E-350 van after she arrived home to find them and Kessler removing animals.
It was about 10 p.m. on Oct. 8 that Baldwin "gunned" her van and drove directly at the men, "placing them in fear for their lives," charging documents state.
Jumped clear: Both men had to jump out of the way to avoid being struck, police said.
Baldwin then "glared" at Wildasin and drove directly at him a second time, documents state.
Wildasin pointed his handgun at Baldwin and demanded she stop the van and get out, police said, but Baldwin backed out of her driveway and took off.
Officers gave chase for about 4 miles until she crossed into Maryland, at which point Maryland police took over the pursuit, but she eluded them, according to documents. She was arrested several days later.
Baldwin remains free on a total of $125,000 bail, charged with the 106 counts of animal cruelty as well as six felony counts of aggravated assault, one felony count of fleeing or eluding police and two misdemeanor counts of simple assault.
Her formal York County Court arraignment is set for Feb. 17, court records state.
— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.