A Calaveras County Superior Court judge refused to release the former owner of an Angels Camp pet grooming business from jail on Thursday morning, instead ordering that she receive a mental health assessment while she awaits a ruling on a probation violation stemming from a 2019 no contest plea to animal negligence.
Vonna Hughes, 77, was arrested by Calaveras County Probation on Monday at their San Andreas office on an arrest warrant issued two months prior because she lost contact with them.
Her attorney, Ken Foley of San Andreas, denied the probation violation against his client and said she lost contact with the probation office because she was homeless.
Foley described it as “a pretty uphill battle to get some place.”
“It was that way before, that’s how it is now,” he said.
Vonna Hughes wore a green jail jumpsuit over a purple t-shirt. Her hair was tied back into a ponytail and she had dark drawn-on eyebrows. As she emerged from jail holding, she beamed at Foley.
“Good to see you Vonna,” he said.
Hughes is serving a three year term of formal probation after approximately a month in county jail for or her role in the treatment of a 9-year-old American pitbull, Cici, who was found dead in Murphys after being lodged at her now-closed business, Pet Bath House in Angels Camp.
Calaveras County Probation has recommended Hughes receive a term of 90 days in county jail for her probation violation, Sgt. Greg Stark with the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office said previously.
Hughes was in court Tuesday, but did not respond to the probation violation because she did not have an attorney.
Hughes’ great-niece, Sarah Huckabee, 30, had tracked her down in Modesto and flew in from Hope, Arkansas to find her. Huckabee said she took Hughes to the probation office, believing they could help Hughes get identification and find a place to live.
“I hand delivered her to jail and I had no idea,” she said. “I didn’t realize she was literally living on the street.”
Judge David M. Sanders asked Hughes why she missed a contact with the probation officer while she was purported to be in a shelter. He said she was first housed in the Modesto Gospel Mission and asked why she left.
“You can only stay there for a certain amount of time,” Hughes said.
Probation had a record that she planned to reside in a Salvation Army facility in Modesto, he said, and inquired why they couldn’t find her there.
“She doesn’t recall that,” Foley said.
Calaveras County Deputy District Attorney Milton Matchak said the new address was checked by probation and Hughes was found to have never stayed there.
While Matchak spoke, Hughes whimpered and sobbed beside Foley.
Sanders refused to release Hughes unless her family could care for her, he said, arching his head toward Huckabee in the audience.
“I’m not able to do that,” Huckabee said. “I didn’t know it was this big.”
“Are you going to help her?” Foley asked.
“Financially, I can’t,” she said. “I didn’t know she wasn’t allowed to leave.”
As Hughes was led out of the courtroom and back into jail holding, she mouthed “I love you” toward Huckabee.
A probation officer in the courtroom said if Hughes were to move out of state, the local probation officer at her destination would have to evaluate her new residential address and the family members who would be financially and physically responsible for her.
Huckabee said after the hearing she did not know if that was possible. All her family had to offer Hughes was a camper on Huckabee’s mother’s property in Hope.
“I appreciate the court’s concern for my client not having a place to live,” Foley said.
Huckabee said she believed the mental health assessment ordered by Sanders was a “good idea” because it could determine the most appropriate steps to find a program or housing for Hughes.
“She’s just a little different. Maybe I’m the naive niece, but I couldn’t stand seeing her on the street,” she said.
The probation officer said her office would contact Calaveras County Behavioral Health to coordinate the mental health assessment.
‘I think she probably has another issue that needs to be explored,” Foley said during the hearing.
After the hearing, Foley said he did not know whether the mental health assessment would have any bearing on the result of her probation violation case.
Also in the crowd during Hughes’ hearing was Steven Mendoza, his wife Natalie, and a few of their friends in “Justice for Cici” t-shirts.
Mendoza and Natalie, Butte Fire survivors now living in San Andreas, said they are still disturbed by the death of one of their three pitbulls, Cici. Steven Mendoza said he was glad bail was denied and hoped the violation would result in a stiffer punishment for Hughes than her 2019 plea deal, which saw charges of felony animal cruelty, felony grand theft and misdemeanor animal cruelty dropped in exchange for a no contest plea to the lesser charge of animal negligence.
“I just wish she would get more jail time,” Mendoza said.
The original incident with Pet Bath House, Cici and Mendoza which resulted in Hughes’ 2017 arrest went unmentioned throughout the hearing.
Mendoza said he has not received any of the $2,125 in restitution ordered by the court as a part of Hughes’ sentence.
“I just want to put it toward my other dogs,” he said of the two pitbulls Casper, then 11, and Coco, then 3, who were also lodged at Pet Bath House and found in Murphys, alive.
He said when he receives his Butte Fire settlement, he plans to return to Mountain Ranch where he said he will stick to Casper and Coco like “flies on rice.”
Sanders set a probation violation pretrial date for March 3. In probation violation hearings, a judge will decide if the violation is true and decide on any penalties.
Contact Giuseppe Ricapito at (209) 588-4526 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @g_ricapito