CROWN POINT — Steve Rajcinoski, the 36-year-old Crown Point man accused in May of running a dangerous dog-breeding operation, agreed at a court hearing Thursday to relinquish his rights to all the animals seized during a police raid earlier this year at his property in Center Township.
Judge Diane Boswell also ruled at the hearing that a trial for the defendant would be held in Lake County, despite the defense's claims the court would be unable to impanel an unbiased jury.
Bob Persin, a deputy prosecuting attorney, told the judge the state has offered a plea agreement to Rajcinoski, but it had not been accepted.
Rajcinoski was charged in June with 11 felony counts of torturing or mutilating a vertebrate animal, as well as dozens more animal-related misdemeanor offenses, after a raid by the Lake County Sheriff's Department at the defendant's property in the 5900 block of West 125th Avenue.
The sheriff's department seized 72 animals from his property, as well as a number of peacocks and chickens, on allegations Rajcinoski allowed the animals to live in filthy conditions. The department further claimed Rajcinoski performed unlicensed surgery on the animals.
Rajcinoski previously reached an agreement with the state to relinquish his rights to 68 of the seized animals — 64 dogs, three goats and a miniature horse — and he would post bond for the remaining nine dogs.
David Rooda, another deputy prosecuting attorney, said Thursday at the court hearing the defendant had not paid the $2,700 per month bond required to secure the nine animals.
Rajcinoski spoke with his attorneys, J. Michael Woods and Paul Stracci, and afterward told the judge he would relinquish his rights to the dogs.
The attorneys also argued on a motion by the defense to move the jury trial for Rajcinoski outside the county.
Woods argued law enforcement made improper statements about the defendant before charges were filed, and those statements were embellished and shared on social media, causing the community to become unfairly biased against the defendant.
He said that bias was evident in the flood of angry phone calls and social media messages received by the court's judges, three of whom recused themselves because of the uninvited communications.
Boswell agreed there were residents who were “boisterous and determined” in their opinions about the case, “but that doesn't mean we cannot find 14 impartial jurors.”
The judge said she had not received any communications about the case, and she guaranteed there would be no protesters in her courtroom.
A new hearing is scheduled for Sept. 28.