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Why does a convicted horse abuser keep getting released?

Sterling Rachwal (Brown Co. Jail)

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WLUK) -- Sterling Rachwal is facing three misdemeanor charges in Brown County for an incident in the Town of Eaton.

Jackie Miller says she received a late-night call in February from the owner of the barn where she keeps her horse Gringo.

“He noticed that my stall was open when he turned the lights on and then he saw somebody run out of my horse's stall,” Miller said.

Miller says she rushed to the barn.

“I did a 360 (degree) check on him and that's when I found out that he was bleeding from his rectum. Right when I said that the barn owner was like alright, I'm calling the police,'" Miller said.

It didn't take long for police to identify a suspect.

“He was always on our radar,” said Brown County Sheriff John Gossage.

Goddage says Rachwal's past is well known. That past includes several convictions related to the abuse of horses.

“It’s the same kind of charge, basically, over and over again throughout the years going back to the '80s,” assistant Brown County district attorney Dana Johnson said at a court hearing earlier this month.

Johnson outlined Rachwal's past, which he says includes convictions for mistreatment of animals in 1983 and 1984 in Waupaca County and in Outagamie County in 1988.

In 1993 in Monroe County and 1996 in Waupaca County, Rachwal was convicted of mistreatment of animals -- specifically horses -- but in both cases he was then found not guilty due to mental disease or defect.

FOX 11 Investigates reviewed Rachwal's case file in Waupaca County.

According to the transcript of hearing in 2007, a psychologist told the court Rachwal had been diagnosed with "...zoophilia..." specifically, "...sexual attraction to horses."

On May 13, 1997, Rachwal was committed to a mental institution for "18 years and 8 months..."

We wanted to talk with the Department of Health Services about Rachwal's case but in an email, a spokesperson said the agency is not allowed to comment because, "Persons treated at our facilities are technically patients, and are therefore protected under patient privacy laws..."

FOX 11 searched the court records and found that on Feb. 7, 2008, after serving more than 12 years, Rachwal was released.

Less than two years later, a judge ruled he violated the terms of his release when he was found in a Fond du Lac County barn with a horse.

On February 25, 2010, Rachwal was sent back to a mental health facility to finish his commitment.

That commitment ended on April 21, 2015. In a letter to the judge before Rachwal's release, the Department of Health Services noted that Rachwal was "...not interested in counseling or other community based resources..." at that time. The letter says staff did not feel Rachwal should be kept in an institution.

The letter from the state says after his release, Rachwal would serve a 90-day jail sentence for disorderly conduct in Fond du Lac County for that incident in the barn.

Two years later, Rachwal finds himself in the Brown County jail, once again accused of mistreatment of a horse.

FOX 11 Investigates sat down with Dr. Brian Cagle, a psychologist with Bellin Health, to get some insights into Rachwal's behavior.

“In my experience working with perpetrators, there really isn't a cure,” Cagle said.

Cagle could not speak about Rachwal in particular, but he says in general, it's difficult to get people to stop this type of behavior.

“In my experience really the only deterrent, really, is fear of consequences and if the fear isn't strong enough, nothing is really going to stop them,” Cagle said.

In the Brown County case, Rachwal is facing three misdemeanor charges. According to the criminal complaint in the case, Rachwal denies the allegations that he assaulted a horse.

Brown County district attorney David Lasee says in order for mistreatment of animals to be a felony, the conduct must lead to the mutilation, disfigurement or death of an animal.

“We racked our brain and searched through the statutes to locate what he could potentially be charged with. The reason he's charged with misdemeanors because that's all that we found that fits,” Lasee said.

Horse owners like Cindy Waters of Green Bay aren't happy with the current laws.

“We're kind of like the voice for the horses. You know, they can't speak so we're going to do it for them. We just want to get stricter laws out there,” Waters said.

“These laws are very antiquated,” said Leighann Lassiter, director of animal cruelty policy with The Humane Society of the United States.

“These sexual abuse laws really need to cover all of the things, really horrible things that people find to do to animals,” Lassiter said.

Sheriff Gossage agrees.

“We really need to get some language in there that any type of lewd and lascivious conduct with any type of animal and get that to a legislator to try to get that law changed,” Gossage said.

State Rep. Andre Jacque, R-De Pere, says he has already been working with prosecutors to update the animal cruelty laws.

“What I'm going to be doing is getting in drafting instructions for legislation that I'd like to have introduced before this fall, hopefully get done this session, that is going to tighten up our laws in this area, increase penalties,” Jacque said.

That can't happen soon enough for some.

“We need to see that action like yesterday. It should have been done a long time ago,” Water said.

When asked if she expects the laws to change, Miller replied, “I'm hoping so but I'm not really expecting a lot to change.”

According to the criminal complaint in the Brown County case, Rachwal is also a suspect in a case of horse abuse in Manitowoc County in April. In the complaint, Brown County investigators say during their investigation of Rachwal, they captured him on video allegedly abusing a horse just across the county line in Manitowoc County.

At this point, no charges have been filed in Manitowoc.

FOX 11 contacted Rachwal's attorney for comment but so far we have not heard back.

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