Town council candidate in Johnston County charged with animal cruelty

A candidate for town council in Johnston County has been charged with four counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty.

Joe Parrish of Wilson’s Mills is accused of neglecting three horses on his farm just off Bear Farm Road. The investigation started three months ago after the police received a tip from a citizen.

Parrish surrendered the horses in August after police gathered information from veterinarians and horse clinics. Wilson’s Mills Police Chief A.Z. Williams said they waited until now to press charges because they needed more complete medical examinations of the horses.

“The medical records were the definitive proof we needed,” he said.

One of the horses seized from Joe Parrish’s farm on Aug. 28, it was malnourished and had a broken pelvis. Parrish is a candidate for town council in Wilson’s Mills. Laura Mitchell

Police went to arrest Parrish on Wednesday, but no one was home, so Williams said they left a message and “directed him to turn himself in,” which he did Wednesday night.

The News & Observer called Parrish for comment and was referred to his attorney, Allen Wellons, who said, “The charges are not substantiated by the facts, and that will be shown.”

Wellons said Parrish bought the horses for his children and grandchildren and had been taking care of them. The charges do not make sense, he said.

Parrish owns Parrish Cleaning Service Inc. and is a former member of the Wilson’s Mills Town Council. He is one of five candidates running for two seats on the Town Council in the town of about 2,500 residents 27 miles southeast of Raleigh. Election day is Nov. 5.

“Pattern of long-term neglect”

In photos and videos provided to The News & Observer, the horses appear thin and one has an injured back leg, walking with a limp. In another photo, that horse’s ribs are showing.

Williams said the alleged cruelty has been going on since 2016 and called it “a pattern of long-term neglect.”

The horses were taken to a farm in Forsyth County. Laura Mitchell, who helped move the animals, described driving up to a fire burning beside the horse stable and feces piled up outside the stable doors.

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One of the horses seized from Joe Parrish’s farm on Aug. 28, standing in feces outside of its stable door. Laura Mitchell

“I’ve never seen conditions like this,” Mitchell said.

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A fire burning beside the horse stable on Joe Parrish’s farm, on the day that an investigator and rescuers seized the horses from Parrish’s farm, photographed by Laura Mitchell on Aug. 28. Laura Mitchell

She said that it was difficult to load the horses, which she described as senior in age, because they were afraid of the fire but that workers eventually got them loaded into a trailer. They will remain on the farm in Forsyth County until a long-term solution is found.

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Trent Brown covers the Town of Cary and other odds and ends. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2019 and is a Collegiate Network fellow.