Man who threw dog over fence found guilty of animal cruelty

OKEECHOBEE — A six-person jury Thursday found an Okeechobee man, who threw a dog over the fence at the county animal shelter, guilty of animal cruelty.

Jorge Samuel Hernandez, 35, also known as Eleazar Ramirez-Avila, Southwest 15th Street, Okeechobee, was found guilty on a felony charge of aggravated animal cruelty.

Because Hernandez is not fluent in English, a certified Spanish interpreter, Carlos Rivera-Navas, was utilized in the proceeding.

Jorge Hernandez, 35

“This crime was caught on video,” said Assistant State Attorney Don Richardson. The video shows the man throw the female cur-mix dog over the shelter fence. The man then drove away. According to the report, the dog was left to suffer with a broken leg without medical treatment for at least 14 hours. Defense attorney Roger Azcona countered that “when he (Hernandez) tossed the dog over the fence, he did not intend for the dog to get injured.”

According to the testimony, the dog’s leg was broken in the incident, and the dog was left to suffer in the cold until shelter personnel found it the next morning.

Deputy Sergeant Arlene Durbin, of the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO), who has been in charge of the Animal Control Services since July 2015 testified that “it was obvious the dog’s leg was broken, as I saw it limping.” She also mentioned possible alternatives to tossing the dog over the fence to include, tethering the dog to the fence with food and water or calling after the 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. operational hours to have the animal picked up.

“Generally someone is there before and after (hours of operation) to clean the facility,” she said.

Mr. Azcona said had there been a secure way for animals to be dropped off after hours, the incident could have been avoided.

Dr. Federico Latimer, of Jupiter Pet Emergency & Specialty Center, who has been an orthopedic surgeon for small animals for a period of approximately 13 years, testified that the dog had sustained a Type 1 Salter-Harris fracture, (growth plate fracture) to the rear right leg.

A Type 1 fracture is described as the physeal separation resulting in displacement of the epiphysis (end part of a long bone) from the metaphysis (narrow portion of a long bone) at the growth plate.

Dr. Latimer said the animal appeared to have a lot of swelling and bruising in the knee area and upon viewing the surveillance footage said, “the injury was consistent” with the actions taken by Hernandez. Dr. Latimer used the method of flouroscopy, a type of medical imaging that shows a continuous X-ray image on a monitor, much like an X-ray movie, to treat the dog testifying that it, “allowed pins to be put in without opening the dog,” via surgery.

Nancy Rodriguez, a neighbor of Hernandez who has five young daughters, testified that she, “saw the dog in the neighborhood for about 21 days,” and that she believed the dog to be aggressive because of its behavior. “Twice when I came home from work, the dog tried to bite me,” she said.

Ms. Rodriguez said she thought it belonged to Hernandez, “because he fed it.”

The defendant, Hernandez, then took the stand in his own defense.

“I tried to find the best place for the dog and never intended to cause it any harm,” he said through the interpreter. “It was daily that someone complained to me about the dog.”
Hernandez said the dog was around his property for about eight days before he took it to the animal control facility.

“If I had thrown the dog from the ground, not the truck bed, it would have been worse,” he said. “I figured there was a cage or something to bring it to after I saw the facility was closed. If I didn’t put the dog in there, it may not be alive today.”

On cross examination, Mr. Richardson asked, “Wouldn’t it have been better to chain the dog to the fence instead of throwing it over?” Hernandez replied, “I did think of that but didn’t want the dog to possibly hang itself.”

During closing statements, Mr. Azcona said that Hernandez, “chose not to let the dog potentially ravage one of the neighborhood children. He took care of it longer than the five days the government would give the dog before performing euthanasia, so who is really more compassionate towards the animal? Consider everything he did that he did not have to do, his heart was on protecting his neighbors kids and believed his actions were necessary.”

“This defendant had plenty of alternatives to throwing the dog over the fence,” said Mr. Richardson.

After the dog was found injured, Sgt. Durbin arranged for an emergency visit to North Lake Animal Hospital where the dog’s leg was x-rayed and confirmed to be broken. Sgt. Durbin then contacted Nala’s New Life Rescue in Palm City who volunteered to get the pup medical care.

The puppy underwent a surgical procedure during which pins were placed in the dog’s leg to mend the bones.

The dog, now named Jenny, recovered from her injuries and was adopted.

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