MILTON — A detention deputy with the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office was arrested Tuesday after investigators say he neglected to care for a horse, leading to its death.

John Rutherford, who has been with the agency for 14 years, was charged with one felony count of aggravated animal cruelty, Sheriff Bob Johnson said at a news conference Wednesday.


Rutherford was released on a $5,000 bond. Johnson said he has been suspended without pay pending termination.

The arrest was the result of a joint investigation between the Sheriff’s Office and animal control officials, Johnson said. 

"We take cruelty to animals seriously, and obviously it’s a felony,” Johnson told reporters at the news conference. “Animals, they’re very dear to my heart, and when somebody misuses or abuses animals, we take it kind of personally.

“Even though (Rutherford) is an employee of ours, he’s not above the law,” Johnson added. “We police our own. ... We’ve got to obey, just like everybody else.”

According to his arrest report, a deputy was called to Rutherford's home March 1 about a horse that needed to be put down.

He found the horse lying on its left side with a bloody pus-filled hole near its ear, the report said. The wound was draining across the animal's face, across his cheek and down his chest and leg.

The horse was lying in a hole about 12 inches deep that appeared to have been made by the horse lying on the ground, unable to stand up and going around and around in a circle, the report said.

The field the horse was in was covered in feces and the nearby barn had nails sticking out of it. The water was green, but there was very little grass and no hay. The horse was so thin they could see its ribs, backbone and hip bones.

An animal control officer said the agency had responded to a complaint in 2017 involving Rutherford and 10 starving cows, the report said. He signed the cows over to animal control.

He also had four miniature donkeys die since January and had called the county to help bury the animals.

Rutherford said he didn't know that his horse was sick. He signed over five more miniature donkeys and a miniature horse, all of whom were very thin, the report noted.