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KINGSBURG – Accusations of elder abuse have surfaced in the case involving alleged animal abuse by a Kingsburg woman.

Kingsburg Police first reported in a press release that Yvette Martinez, 50, had surrendered herself on June 17 and was arrested on 16 felony counts of cruelty to animals.

Since then, Martinez’s neighbors and relatives of an elderly man she was previously involved with say she has been physically, financially and emotionally abusing the victim. The relatives and potential victim are known, but will not be named to protect their privacy.

The family confirmed that they still do not know the whereabouts of their father and that the Kingsburg Police are investigating.

“We as his family didn’t know she was doing this to him, especially not physically abusing him! It breaks our hearts knowing he’s being treated this way,” the son said. The victim had previously suffered a stroke and family members say they’ve tried to convince him to make other living arrangements to no avail.

“She brainwashes him, and because he can still make his own decisions, he ultimately ends up going back with her. She hides him so we can’t find him [and] we can’t see him. She does this because she gets paid for keeping him.”

While this investigation is underway, Martinez’s neighbors came to the June 19 City Council meeting to demand action.

“It took me calling the [police department] to get anything done and that’s only because I heard animals in there fighting,” Orange Street neighbor Kay Roberts said. “I didn’t know if they were killing each other, but they were fighting and that was unbelievable to hear.”

Others said they’ve been complaining to City officials - from the previous mayor to the current city manager - to no avail.

“This has been an ongoing issue for a decade and it’s been ignored by this city,” another West Orange Street resident Sean Woods said at the Council meeting. “I have proof of that and I’ve given that proof out to the appropriate people. The city failed because they’re too busy worrying about the small minority and six-inch high weeds instead of worrying about the abuse going on to animals and humans next door to me for such a long time.”

The Woods provided emails dating back to 2014 to then-Mayor Chet Reilly and City Manager Alex Henderson complaining of an excessive number of barking dogs, flea infestations, mice infestations, discarded furniture and excessive amounts of disabled cars on the property rented by Martinez.

Woods has since started a petition to the City Council seeking Henderson’s dismissal.

Henderson said the City does take enforcement complaints seriously and conducts code enforcement both proactively and in response to complaints.

“In 2014, we were contacted via email about concerns. We conducted an external review and didn’t find any sufficient evidence to continue our investigation. For example, one of the complaints was about the number of vehicles parked on the street. At that time, they were all legally registered and parked.

“In 2016, we received a separate complaint about potentially too many animals, foul odor, etc. As such, we contacted the property owner and the tenant and our building inspector did an investigation inside and outside the property with both owner and renter present. At that time, there was no sign of animal abuse, too many animals or other issues that were uncovered a few weeks ago. Our inspector noted a shed in the rear yard was too close to the home and ordered that to be moved. Those issues were addressed and we considered that investigation closed.”

Since then, when KPD was contacted and the animals discovered, Henderson said the City has taken legal steps to rectify the situation.

“The city ordered outside cleanup and pest control last week. The property owner is working with the city to abate all the issues and has started the cleanup of the inside. They have indicated a full cleanup and restoration of inside and out.”

Also, the property owner had “indicated he was inside the home as recently as December 2018 and there were not the issues present that we found in June.”

Police investigated the property on the 200 block of West Orange Street rented by Martinez on June 9 and found at least one dead cat and 15 distressed dogs in filthy conditions. Neighbors said they thought the property had been abandoned and could smell foul odors coming from the residence.

Officers discovered trash, animal feces, junk, other discarded items and several dead cats in the backyard of the residence. They also noticed several dogs in distress within the house and entered to find 15 dogs without food or water. A deceased cat was also found in a bedroom.

“The floor of the residence was covered with animal feces and garbage several inches thick throughout. The 15 dogs were taken from the residence and transported with the help of the SPCA first to the Kingsburg Veterinarian Clinic where they were all found to have severe flea infestation, as well as other health issues. They were then transferred to the Second Chance Animal Shelter in Selma but then have been taken to the Central California SPCA in Fresno. It’s estimated their immediate treatment will cost up to $300 per dog.

“Initial investigations have revealed that all dogs have severe flea infestations,” a statement from the CCSPCA said. “Due to the dire circumstances of the [renter]’s home, there is reasonable belief the dogs have been exposed to scabies. All dogs have been treated with Vectrin to combat the fleas, and Ivermectin to combat scabies. Medical examinations are still ongoing, and more extensive treatments will be needed to test fecal matter, hormone balance, tapeworms and more.”

The house has been quarantined and the City is moving to condemn the property because of the health hazards. The responding police officers on scene were also required to undergo a medical screening and consultation for their own health and well-being afterwards.

At the Council meeting, neighbors lined up to ask the City to speed up the condemnation process as the conditions of the property have created a public health hazard.

“We’re dealing with a severe biohazard and it’s spreading out of that home rapidly. You cannot stand on our street right now without being coated in fleas on your ankles that are pouring out of that home,” Woods said.

Jeannine Woods shared photos of her son with flea bites all over his torso. The photos had been provided to City officials in 2014.

“When we first moved into our house in 2010, [it] became infested with fleas. At one point, I counted over 50 flea bites on my little son. We immediately jumped into action putting flea medicine on our dogs and hiring a pest control to spray my yard. The smell from [Martinez’s] house is nauseating,” she wrote in an email.

Neighbors Kevin and Leah Underwood said they too have had to deal with stray, flea-infested cats left behind by Martinez.

“There are a lot of sick cats in the area that are affecting all the neighbors. I have two dogs and I’m very concerned my dogs are going to be affected by this,” Kevin Underwood said. “I hope you take it seriously and do whatever you can as the city council to address it right away because it’s already been nine days since this took place.”

Leah Underwood said she’s had rats coming from Martinez’s yard and worries the cats are spreading disease as they use her yard as a litter box.

“These cats are diseased and I have a large garden I’m feeding my family out of. I’m constantly chasing these cats out of our garden from digging in it. It’s food my family is consuming. I just want you to know we’re really concerned about the possible health effects from the animals that are there.”

City attorney Mike Noland said they have issued an abatement citation to the owners to take immediate action to clean-up of the outside of the house.

“The City has taken up itself to proceed with having the yard areas cleaned up. That activity started today,” Noland said. Pest exterminators had been contacted to start flea treatment and the cats were to be trapped.

“The citation requires the owners of the property to initiate clean-up of the inside of the house on or before the 25th of this month. If the owners take no action as of the 25th to commence cleaning it up, then the City will take the necessary action to abate the nuisance that is caused by the status of the property on the inside also,” he said. “The City will then lien the property to recover the costs associated with that.”

Councilwoman Laura North asked Noland to look into whether there are funds to cover the cost neighbors have had to incur to treat their pets and yards for fleas and Noland said he’d look into it.

Councilman Sherman Dix asked for a back report to see the communications that have been sent to the City regarding this property over the years.

Residents say they feel abandoned by the City in dealing with the stray animals in town.

“Something’s got to be done. We’re asking for mercy from you guys,” Roberts said. “We were always taken care of here, but now, it’s like we were deserted a few years ago. We’ve never gotten any help for this and there’s been many a complaint coming in from our neighbors. All of us have complained.”

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The reporter can be reached at 583-2427 or lbrown@selmaenterprise.com.

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