An Army staff sergeant was arrested after authorities found the carcasses of 24 dead animals – including poisonous snakes, dragons and a dog – in his abandoned apartment in northeast Richland, authorities announced Thursday.
Kurt Hafner, 36, is charged with 24 counts of ill treatment of animals, according to the Sheriff’s Department. He was being evicted from his Meredith Square apartment April 10 when deputies found the dead animals inside. The apartments are near Richland Northeast High School off Decker Boulevard.
Inside the home, deputies found the carcasses of a bearded dragon, two alligator snapping turtles and a variety of puff adders, boa constrictors and rattlesnakes, according to Sgt. Joe Clarke, an animal abuse investigator for the Sheriff’s Department. The carcass of a beagle-mix was found on the back porch in a kennel draped in a sheet.
The floors of the home were covered in dog feces, garbage, papers, ammunition and other personal items of Hafner’s, Clarke said. “This is one of the worst,” he said of the severity of the conditions. “This is a Top 5 for us, in fact.”
Some of the reptiles appeared to have been trying to get out of their cages when they died, Clarke said. At least one snake got out of its cage.
Dan Phillips, owner of All Things Wild, inspected the home before law enforcement began working, and said there were terrariums and aquariums strewn across the floor and others that were neatly stacked. Phillips and deputies had to force open the apartment door because of the amount of trash inside, he said. “It was very difficult to find carpet or flooring that was not covered” with junk.
“The smell was horrendous,” Phillips said.
Deputies said Hafner abandoned the apartment in February, leaving the animals without food and water. Phillips said some snakes can go as long as a year without food, but most cannot live longer than three months.
“Most snakes probably won’t make it more than a month without water, at room temperature or above,” he said.
Clarke said investigators determined Hafner is a staff sergeant at Fort Jackson, and they contacted a police liaison at the installation. He was an instructor at Victory Tower, where Army recruits practice rappeling, a post spokesman said.
Hafner was turned over to the Sheriff’s Department on Wednesday.
Each of the 24 charges against Hafner is a felony offense punishable by up to five years in prison, according to the charges, which are filed with the State Law Enforcement Division. Hafner had no prior criminal record, SLED records show.
The apartment complex began the eviction process after Hafner refused to let crews in for routine maintenance, Clarke said. Property managers had received complaints for around a month from residents about the smell.
Hafner “gave some indicators of some things going on in his life,” Clarke said, when asked if Hafner offered an explanation for abandoning the animals.
Sheriff Leon Lott said if someone is not going to care for an animal, they should not take one into their home. Phillips, a reptile owner himself, agreed.
“Just because it didn’t have fur doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve to be cared for, if you’re gonna take on the responsibility.”