Accused horse abuser pleads not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect

Sterling Rachwal and his attorney appear via monitor in Brown County court on May 10, 2017 (WBAY photo)

BROWN COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) - A man accused of sexually abusing horses in two counties has entered a plea of "not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect," according to online court records.

Sterling Rachwal appeared before a judge Tuesday for a hearing on misdemeanor charges filed against him in Brown County.

Online court records show prosecutors may amend Rachwal's criminal complaint to include additional charges from a surrounding county. Rachwal is also charged with mistreating animals in Manitowoc County.

Prosecutors says a man believed to be Rachwal was seen running from a Brown County barn in February. A horse was found to be abused and had a bleeding rectum. A vehicle matching a description of Rachwal's truck was seen in the area.

In late March, investigators planted a GPS device on Rachwal's vehicle that showed him driving repeatedly between a bar and an area near Manitowoc. Deputies found a barn with horses there, and received the property owner's permission to install cameras. They say footage shows Rachwal repeatedly molesting a horse. Confronted with photos from the cameras, Rachwal told investigators, "You don't know that's me."

All charges against Rachwal are misdemeanors. Horse owners have called on lawmakers to create steeper punishments for people who have repeatedly been charged with sexual abuse to animals. Click here for our report on the issue.

A hearing on amending the complaint is scheduled for Oct. 24. A report on Rachwal's competency is due by Nov. 14.

Rachwal is scheduled to go to trial in Brown County in December.