Animal Law Center founder Jennifer Edwards now has more in common with “Joe Exotic” than just initials and notoriety
EVERGREEN, Colorado––Animal Law Center founder Jennifer Reba Edwards, 43, central to efforts to overturn and weaken Colorado dangerous dog laws, now has more in common with the notorious “Joe Exotic” than just the “JE” initials and media notoriety.
The former Oklahoma tiger exhibitor “Joe Exotic,” also known as Joseph Schreibvogel, Joseph Maldonado, and Joseph Passage, is currently serving a 22-year prison sentence for having sought in 2018 to have Big Cat Rescue founder Carole Baskin killed.
Baskin had repeatedly exposed his transgressions of the federal Animal Welfare Act, for which he was fined and criminally convicted, and won a lawsuit against him for trademark violation.
Known by three names
Jennifer Edwards, also known by her married name, Jennifer Emmi, has been charged with attempting to arrange a murder-for-hire, after repeatedly threatening the intended victim.
Initially practicing law as Jennifer Thomadis, dismissing the concerns of dog attack victim advocates that her litigation could eventually get someone killed, Jennifer Edwards herself is now accused of trying to get someone killed––and not just as an accidental outcome of making Colorado safer for pit bulls, Rottweilers, wolf hybrids, and German shepherds.
Edwards, summarized Denver Post reporter Shelly Bradbury, “tried to hire a former [U.S. military] sniper and a ranch hand to kill her estranged husband’s new girlfriend and others as part of a year-long campaign of harassment, stalking and threats, authorities alleged in a 33-page affidavit.”
Charged with 16 felonies & 16 misdemeanors in a year’s time
Edwards, Bradbury explained, “was arrested in late January 2021 and charged with solicitation of first-degree murder, two counts of retaliating against a witness or victim, and three counts of stalking, according to an affidavit filed on January 25 by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.”
Elaborated Jennifer Campbell-Hicks for 9 News in Denver, “Since January 2020, Edwards has been charged with 16 felonies and 16 misdemeanors in five felony cases, the affidavit says. Held in the Jefferson County Jail, she was next due in court on the most recent case on February 26, 2021.
“According to the affidavit, Edwards had solicited “multiple people to murder, harass, surveil and retaliate against her estranged husband, her husband’s girlfriend, and other witnesses and victims” in cases in which Edwards was previously charged with 16 felonies and 16 misdemeanors.
“A pattern of harassment and stalking”
Reported Campbell-Hicks, “The affidavit describes a pattern of harassment and stalking dating back to January 2019, when [Edwards’] husband said he caught her cheating and stated his intention to divorce. He backed off on a divorce when Emmi claimed multiple medical issues, none of which could be verified. They still separated and shared custody of their children, the affidavit says.
“In September 2019, [Edwards] threatened to kill one of the children. She made threats again in December of that year,” Campbell-Hicks continued. “In early January 2020, she strangled one of the children when the child tried to call her father for help out of concern for how [Edwards] was behaving. Also that month, she held a knife to her husband’s throat at a family birthday celebration, according to the affidavit.”
The divorce of Edwards and her former husband Donald T. Emmi was reportedly completed on February 3, 2021, after more than a year in court.
“Banking for the cannabis industry”
Emmi is described on the HempNav web site as “a recognized expert in banking for the cannabis industry,” who “was instrumental in building the nation’s first cannabis transaction escrow company and has been a strategic and legal advisor on more than $100 million in cannabis transactions and merger and acquisition activity.”
While the divorce proceedings were underway, Campbell-Hicks narrated, Edwards “contacted numerous individuals and alleged that her estranged husband and his girlfriend had kidnapped, brainwashed and abused [their children] as part of a plot to frame her. She also researched means to evade law enforcement detection, according to the affidavit.
“Incidents escalated,” Campbell-Hicks said, until Donald Emmi “informed police on November 2, 2020 that he had been told of a recording of a phone call in which [Edwards] asked for help in finding someone to kill [Emmi’s] girlfriend, according to the affidavit.”
Resumed Denver Post reporter Bradbury, “The murder-for-hire arrest followed a six-month investigation by the sheriff’s office that involved undercover meetings, blackmail and extortion attempts, a 67-year-old man,” reportedly owner of a property neighboring the former Edwards/Emmi home, “who was Edwards’ ‘financial backer,’ and numerous attempts by [Edwards] to manipulate her estranged husband and his girlfriend, who had been the family’s au pair.”
$3 million cash bond
Denver defense attorney Colin Bresee, who has represented Edwards in her previous cases, told CBS4 reporter Brian Maass that the Edwards/Emmi marriage “looked like the model family and all of a sudden her husband trades her in for a younger girl. She was irate.”
Edwards “is being held in the Jefferson County jail on a $3 million cash bond that she must post herself,” Bradbury noted. “In at least one of her previous cases, the bond was paid by the 67-year-old man who lives at a neighboring ranch in Evergreen. According to the affidavit, he cared for Edwards, had a ‘special interest’ in her and provided significant financial help.”
ANIMALS 24-7 learned from public records that the former Edwards/Emmi property actually has at least three male neighbors in approximately the right age range, 65, 66, and 68, respectively, with no clear indication as to which one the “67-year-old man” might be.
“Diagnosed with a mental health disorder”
Edwards, “who according to the affidavit has been diagnosed with a mental health disorder,” Bradbury said, “is accused of asking 28-year-old ranch hand Timothy Lindsey to help kill her husband’s girlfriend in November 2020. In a series of recorded phone calls,” the affidavit describes, Edwards “asked Lindsey if he knew anyone who could ‘get rid of her,’ and provided the girlfriend’s name and workplace.”
According to testimony summarized in the affidavit, Lindsey said he “played along” and told Edwards that having the girlfriend killed might cost between $50,000 and $100,000.
Edwards reportedly offered no objection to the price.
“They also discussed whether her husband should be killed,” Bradbury mentioned, “and whether it should happen at the Evergreen ranch or somewhere else.”
Edwards “said the plan was ‘on hold'”
Edwards reportedly “suggested that both people could be killed because, “if there was a car accident or something, no one would know.”
But Edwards later said the plan was “on hold,” according to the affidavit.
Lindsay promptly told Donald Emmi and police about the discussion, the affidavit recounts.
“He also told a former ranch hand, Seth McCallum, a 29-year-old who served as a sniper in the U.S. military,” Bradbury added. “McCallum then tried to blackmail the 67-year-old man for $10,000, the affidavit said, though it is not clear whether McCallum was ever paid.”
Wanted to “tackle cases no one else would touch”
“Edwards started the Animal Law Center in 2006 right out of law school,” according to an August 2012 profile by Denver Post reporter Monte Whaley, “because she wanted to tackle cases that other law firms in Colorado and the rest of the country don’t touch.”
“We are the only full-time Colorado law practice dedicated solely to animal law,” Edwards told Whaley, who talked, Whaley said, “while Ike, a 5-year-old Rottweiler, pushed his way onto her lap.”
Continued Whaley, “Edwards grew up on a 20-acre spread in Maryland with several animals, including Doberman pinschers and cows. She originally wanted to be a veterinarian but found the work lacking.”
IRS documents in error?
Guidestar, the service contractor that posts nonprofit disclosure information for the Internal Revenue Service, indicates that Edwards actually incorporated the Animal Law Center in 1999, which would be when she was only 21 years of age, seven years before she became an attorney and eight years before her former husband did.
Guidestar also states that the Animal Law Center has never filed IRS Form 990.
Be that as it may, Whaley recalled that “Edwards in 2007 filed one of the first lawsuits against Canada-based pet-food maker Menu Foods and its subsidiaries after pets began dying from eating tainted pet foods. The class-action suit eventually led to a $24 million settlement payment to pet owners.
“Edwards also got the Colorado State Fair to reinstate exhibiting privileges to members of a Sedalia family whose two goats were disqualified after an unapproved growth stimulant was detected in their food.”
Pissed on by a tiger
“In one case,” wrote Whaley, “a pregnant Edwards was challenged by a female wolf at a wolf rescue that needed legal advice. In another, a tiger urinated on her while she consulted with an animal rescue facility on the Eastern Plains.”
Mostly, Edwards and law partner Jay Wayne Swearingen, 73, attacked dangerous dog laws and sued police departments whose officers shot dogs in the line of duty.
Won 2009 case against Denver pit bull definition
Edwards in October 2009 won what she predicted would be a first step toward overturning the 1989 Denver pit bull ban when “an administrative judge ruled that Denver Animal Care and Control must remove the pit bull breed label from Kevin O’Connell’s dog,” summarized Denver Post reporter Jordan Steffen.
O’Connell, 40, of Thornton, Colorado, left a dog he contended was a boxer mix with friends in Denver while on a business trip.
“Animal control was called to the residence in an unrelated incident and saw Dexter in the backyard,” Steffen wrote. “Officers suspected Dexter of being a pit bull and seized him. A few days later, the dog was subjected to a breed examination,” administered by two animal control officers and a veterinarian, during which he was found to have a majority of pit bull characteristics,” exactly as the Denver ordinance required.
O’Connell and Edwards challenged the finding, presenting testimony from American Kennel Club judges and show dog handlers, who obfuscated the central point that the Denver ordinance was not written to narrowly define dog breeds, but rather to protect the public from dogs with the physical attributes of fighting dogs.
Police training in dog “mannerisms & postures”
Edwards a month later won a settlement in U.S. District Court requiring the police department in Brighton, Colorado to give officers a seven-hour course in “how dogs display stress, aggression and fear, taking cues from their mannerisms and postures,” reported Victoria Barbatelli of the Denver Post.
The case originated when two dogs who had been reported for running at large charged a Brighton police officer, who fatally shot one of them, described as a yellow Lab mix.
“Thirty-seven Brighton officers in bite suits underwent practice scenarios with the trainer’s dogs and learned how to use a catch pole, a non-lethal animal control device that is now carried in all Brighton patrol cars,” Barbatelli wrote.
Settlement irrelevant to realities of charging dogs
While the Brighton police officers appeared to welcome the training, it was largely irrelevant to the reality that police officers are not going to be carrying catch poles when approaching suspects, serving warrants, or making welfare checks, and at close range are rarely going to have more than a split second to observe “mannerisms and postures.”
The onus for avoiding situations in which police shoot dogs must accordingly be on dog owners, to prevent their dogs from charging anyone, under any circumstance.
A charging dog, and even more so two large dogs charging at close range, is a potentially life-threatening incident to anyone––and there are more than enough videos posted online of pit bulls, in particular, dismembering their victims with wagging tails, to make any training in recognition of canine “mannerisms and postures” potentially lethally misleading.
“Bites are assumed risk of a vet tech”
Edwards in March 2010 won yet another problematic ruling for dog attack victims on behalf of Spork, a 17-pound, 10-year-old miniature dachshund who facially disfigured veterinary technician Allyson Stone in Lafayette, Colorado, a 15-year veteran of vet tech work.
The dachshund owner, Kelly Walker, contended that Spork should not have been designated a vicious dog because he was simply scared and in pain from a bad tooth; but “vicious” is a description of what a dog does, not a moral judgement, and the purpose of a “vicious” label is to prevent accidents from happening again.
Edwards argued that, “Bites are just an assumed risk of a veterinary technician. It’s the name of the game.”
Lafayette Municipal Judge Roger Buchholz left the “vicious” designation in place for six months, to be lifted if Spork did not harm anyone else, but added, Boulder Daily Camera staff writer Vanessa Miller reported, that “Excluding animal care workers from the vicious dog ordinance is a reasonable provision that the Lafayette City Council might want to consider.”
Disagreeing that being badly bitten should be considered part of her job, Stone told Miller that she would “find another way to express my love for animals.”
Won “service dog” exemptions for pit bulls in Denver & Aurora
In May 2010 Edwards filed a class action lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the pit bull bans formerly in effect in Denver and Aurora, Colorado, which forced both cities to introduce exemptions on behalf of pit bulls claimed by their owners to be “service dogs.”
Both cities subsequently saw surges in pit bull ownership, leading to the recent repeal of their pit bull bans.
Five years later, in May 2015, Edwards won a settlement in Erie, Colorado, that paid German shepherd owner Brittany Moore $40,000 and required Erie to introduce training for police officers parallel to the training introduced earlier in Brighton.
Another cop-shot-dog case
The Erie case originated, Boulder Daily Camera staff writer Mitchell Byars recounted, when “On May 10, 2011, Moore called 911 after receiving threatening phone calls from her fiance’s ex-girlfriend.”
Responding, police officer Jamie Chester was met by Moore’s two German shepherds, shooting one of them from approximately five to six feet away.
“In his report, Chester said the dog bared its teeth and lunged at him, which Moore disputes,” Byars said. “At the time, the Boulder County District Attorney’s Office found no wrongdoing on Chester’s part and did not press charges.
“Chester had been involved in a previous incident in 2007 in which he fatally shot a dog after it mauled a 9-year-old boy,” Byars added.
Edwards in March 2017 won a second case against the city of Aurora that obliged the animal control department to return a dog named Capone to residents Tito Serrano and Tracy Abbato, after DNA testing established that the dog––adopted from the Adams County animal shelter as a “German shepherd/Labrador mix”––was not legally a wolf or wolf hybrid.
Serrano and Abbato did, however, plead guilty in Aurora municipal court to not having Capone’s rabies inoculation and city registration tags up-to-date, and having a dog running at-large, reported Tammy Vigil for KDVR-TV, Denver.
Edwards lost her next round against the city of Aurora when in March 2018 a DNA test confirmed that a dog named Bandit who was impounded for biting a delivery driver was “100% American Staffordshire Terrier, which is one of the three restricted breeds in Aurora,” the city announced.
Bandit’s owner pleaded guilty, the city said, “to keeping an aggressive or dangerous animal; animal running at large; and possession of a restricted breed.”
Bandit was euthanized.
The much publicized case, however, helped to build momentum toward the January 11, 2021 repeal of the Aurora pit bull ban, which had been affirmed in a 2014 referendum by 64% of the city electorate.
Horse neglect case
Animal advocates might find other points to question in Edwards’ representation of animal owners in a variety of other high profile cases.
Edwards, for example, in August 2008 represented Alesha Matchett of Wellington, Colorado, who claimed to operate a horse rescue called “Animal Angels,” unrelated to the two nonprofit organizations of similar name incorporated in Maryland and Germany.
The Larimer County Sheriff’s Office impounded 27 allegedly neglected horses and other animals from Matchett, who was allowed to keep 10 animals after pleading guilty to a single count of misdemeanor cruelty.
Matchett and her nine-year-old son were evicted from the rented property a year later.
Matchett had recently been charged with driving under intoxication and eluding police.
Matchett died from smoke inhalation in a February 21, 2017 house fire in Ovid, Colorado.
Cattle neglect case
Edwards also represented Park County cattle rancher Vern Wagner, then 77, from whom the Colorado Department of Agriculture in May 2010 impounded 379 allegedly starving cattle after finding 143 dead cattle on his 130,000-acre ranch near Hartsel.
Wagner was allowed to keep about 1,000 cattle and 140 horses.
The last of the animals were rounded up on December 16, 2011 and sold at auction, by order of district judge Stephen Groome, in Fairplay, Colorado, after hearing five days of testimony about the case.
“Despite Wagner’s contention to the contrary, the Court finds and concludes that Wagner mistreated and neglected the cattle under his care by failing to provide them with adequate food and water during the winter months of 2009-2010,” wrote Groome, barring Wagner from ever again keeping livestock in Park County.
The charges against Wagner were reduced to a single misdemeanor cruelty conviction during a series of appeals. That conviction was then overturned by the 11th Judicial District Court in June 2014.
Dog left on mountain case
Edwards in September 2012 represented rock climber Anthony Ortolani, 31, who was charged with cruelty “after leaving his German shepherd/Rottweiler mix, Missy, behind on the saddle between Mount Bierstadt and Mount Evans,” wrote Denver Post reporter Tom McGhee.
“Missy was stranded for eight days,” McGhee continued, before hikers Scott and Amanda Washburn “found her bloodied and close to death on the ridge,” and, unable to bring her down alone, recruited an eight-member climbing team who carried her down through a blizzard two days later––a nine-hour operation.
Missy was abandoned, McGhee explained, when Ortolani took her climbing on the 14,000-foot-high slopes, a questionable decision at any time, “with the 19-year-old son of a friend. Bad weather was moving in, and the canine, whose feet were blistered, was unable to walk. When his climbing companion’s water supply broke, Ortolani decided it was time to come down.
“The two men tried to carry the 112-pound dog over the rocks for two hours,” before Ortolani “decided to leave her there and help his partner down. Ortolani called a friend who contacted the Clear Creek County Sheriff’s Office, but was told the region was too dangerous and that the rescue doesn’t rescue animals.”
In lieu of a cruelty conviction, Ortolani accepted a guilty plea to violating a Clear Creek County ordinance.
Shelter fixed French bulldog
Edwards’ most recent widely publicized case appears to have been a lawsuit filed in September 2017 against the Denver Animal Shelter for sterilizing a French bulldog who was among three dozen allegedly neglected French bulldogs impounded from show dog handler Marleen Puzak.
Twelve dead French bulldogs were also found at Puzak’s home.
The dog in question belonged to French bulldog breeder Michelle Tippets.
“A shelter spokesman said because the dogs had been in Puzak’s custody for more than six months, Puzak became the legal owner,” reported Emily Allen for Fox 31-Denver.
“When Puzak relinquished the rights to the animals, they became property of the shelter,” Allen continued. “The spokesperson said the dog’s microchip was not registered to Puzak’s name.”
The dog was sterilized in preparation for an adoption event, the spokesperson told Allen, after Tippets failed to provide proof of ownership within ten days of claiming her.
This case appears to have either been dropped or settled out of court.