A Telford man facing a spate of animal cruelty and weapons charges in connection with his arrest last month has been on animal welfare authorities’ radar for nearly two years, according to Tracie Graham — a Humane Society police officer and shelter manager with the Montgomery County SPCA.

Graham said that since late 2011, she and other Humane Society officials have been investigating 52-year-old Earl C. Heitz III, of the 100 block of Forrest Road, on suspicion of animal cruelty and failure to provide proper care for animals.

Heitz was arrested at his home by Franconia Township police on March 21 and arraigned on 27 charges — including 21 counts of cruelty to animals and three counts of felony illegal firearm possession — after a report of an injured goat led officers to his residence.

 MCSPCA seized 24 animals from the property, “which are being housed and cared for,” said Graham, who — citing the ongoing nature of the case — did not disclose the medical condition of any of the animals. She said that the removed animals included 11 puppies, three chinchillas, two goats, two roosters, two guinea fowl, two parrots, one iguana and one cat.
On Wednesday, Heitz had his preliminary hearing before District Judge Kenneth Deatelhauser of Souderton continued for a second time. Court personnel did not provide a reason for the continuance. Heitz remains free after posting $50,000 bail on March 22.

“This is not the first time there’s been a problem like this with (Heitz),” according to Graham. She said that on Feb. 19, she filed four non-traffic summary citations for animal cruelty against Heitz with District Judge Catherine Hummel-Fried of Red Hill. That was in regard to 40 animals — including goats, horses and cattleHeitz allegedly keeps on an Upper Salford property that’s owned by someone else, said Graham, adding that those animals have not yet been seized from the property.

“We are going to be requesting forfeiture of all of the animals,” she said.

Court records show that the four citations are in the process of being transferred from Hummel-Fried’s court — Graham explained that she is trying to have them consolidated into Heitz’s criminal case in connection with his March arrest.

According to police, just after 1 p.m. on March 21, officers were dispatched to Heitz’s property after receiving a tip that a goat on a nearby road had been struck by a vehicle and appeared to have a broken jaw, and that several dogs were running up and down Heitz’s driveway.

When officers approached the house to locate the homeowner, the criminal complaint states, they found the front door wide open, announced their presence but got no response and then, “not knowing if the homeowner was injured or incapacitated,” entered the residence for a well-being check.

Inside, officers found “deplorable conditions,” according to the affidavit: Animal feces in every part of the home, a dead fish on the floor of an upstairs bedroom and a number of live animals both inside and outside the home, including puppies, goats, chickens, chinchillas and birds. Police said they also found three .22 caliber rifles inside the house, which authorities took for safekeeping since the house was open “and anyone would have access to the firearms.”

The MCSPCA and Humane Society then responded to the scene and made the decision to take the 24 animals into protective custody, the complaint states, and an official from Franconia Township was also called in to inspect the property. The township made the determination to condemn the property and posted an official notice to that effect on the front door of the house that afternoon.

Police said that as they were leaving the property, Heitz returned and asked what was going on. According to the affidavit, Heitz was advised that authorities were called to the property because of the goat that had been injured, that the MCSPCA had taken his animals, that the township had condemned the property and he was not permitted inside the house and that he needed to leave the property immediately.

Shortly after 5 p.m. that same day, police received a call that someone was at the house and there were dogs running on the property, court papers state, and while officers were en route back to the property, they learned from the Montgomery County District Attorney’s office that Heitz was convicted of a felony drug charge in 1992 and thus was prohibited from possessing firearms. Police said they were advised by an assistant district attorney to make an arrest based on that information.

Upon arrival, Franconia police — observing that the township’s condemned property notice had been removed from the front door — knocked on the door, and when Heitz came to the door he was taken into custody without incident.

A new date for Heitz’s preliminary hearing has not yet been scheduled, court records show.

According to information posted online by the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department, Heitz’s Forrest Road property is listed for Sheriff’s Sale on May 29.

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