VIERA - On Oct. 17, Brevard County Judge Kelly Ingram ordered the acquittal of Sebastian Police Department officer Eric Antosia on one count of cruelty to animals.
Because Officer Antosia lives in Melbourne and the dog was presumed to have died at his home, the jury trial was held at the Moore Justice Center in Viera.
The judge did not allow the six-person jury to render a verdict, instead choosing to grant the defense motion for a judgment of acquittal herself.
According to the Melbourne Police Dept. complaint, on April 28, 2017 Officer Antosia went to a court proceeding in Vero Beach and took his dog with him, which the complaint said was “a normal part of his police duties.” When Officer Antosia returned to his Melbourne home, he allegedly forgot to remove the dog, Diesel, from the patrol vehicle. He shut the vehicle off and went inside his home. Later in the afternoon he discovered Diesel had died inside the patrol vehicle. The vehicle’s windows were rolled up and the air conditioner was off.
When Officer Antosia discovered Diesel was dead, he called Sebastian Police, who called Melbourne Police, since the officer and Diesel were at his home in Melbourne.
A necropsy was performed, and veterinarian Angela Cail of Treasure Coast Animal Emergency and Specialty Hospital determined Diesel died from heat stroke.
Officer Antosia, 43, was charged with animal cruelty for leaving his K-9 partner in a hot car with the windows closed. The charges were a first-degree misdemeanor.
When the trial began, the officer’s attorney, Greg Eisenmenger, challenged whether the veterinarian was qualified to perform a necropsy.
“We did in fact question the vet report and whether her exam was sufficient under industry standards to allow her opinion into evidence,” Mr. Eisenmenger told Hometown News. “This was not an attack on her qualifications as a vet, by all accounts she is an excellent vet. However she is not a pathologist and her examination did not meet necropsy standards.”
When the motion to exclude the veterinarian’s testimony was called for a hearing Nov. 1, 2017, the state attorney did not have Dr. Cail present. The court continued the hearing to the next day, but again the state was unable to produce the vet, due to what the state attorney called “a schedule conflict.” As a result, Judge Ingram granted the defense motion excluding the veterinarian’s opinion.
In a motion to the court filed Oct. 16, 2019, the day before the acquittal, defense attorney Eisenmenger argued for the exclusion of “any lay opinions, including but not limited to, speculating as to the possible causes of death for K-9 Diesel.”
As grounds for that, Mr. Eisenmenger stated that “the only experts disclosed by the state have been excluded by this Honorable Court in previous rulings,” and “no other expert opinions have been disclosed by the state.”
In Judge Kelly’s ruling of acquittal, she said there was no proof that Officer Antosia had committed any crime, so she threw out the charge without allowing it to be decided by the jury.
Another issue was proving where exactly Diesel had died, and when. The judge said that the state had not proved where he died, thus it may have been in Indian River County, not Brevard County.
Mr. Eisenmenger also argued that other causes of death were possible. He said that the officer’s child might have put Diesel in the vehicle after playing with him. He also argued that Diesel could have died from an illness or heart attack unconnected to being in the hot car.
Also at issue was responsibility for the vehicle’s warning alarm. Mr. Eisenmenger argued that the death may have been due to a faulty or turned off warning system in the patrol car.
The vehicle was equipped with a “Hot-N-Pop” alarm system, which according to court records should page the officer when the temperature inside the car reaches 90 degrees. The system is also supposed to lower the windows and sound the horn.
Mr. Eisenmenger said Officer Antosia was not using his normal patrol vehicle that day, and the replacement he was using had the alarm configured differently than what he expected.
Mr. Eisenmenger argued that, since Officer Antosia’s normal vehicle was being repaired, he was using a backup vehicle that, unknown to him, did not have the Hot-N-Pop alarm system properly configured, and it did not alert the officer.
Sebastian Police Chief Michelle Morris issued a statement that seemed to agree with the acquittal.
“After extensive criminal and administrative investigations, all evidence indicates that this was an unfortunate tragic incident that was unintentional,” Chief Morris said.
Officer Antosia is still with the Sebastian Police Department, but he does not currently work with a K-9 partner.
To read documents from the case, visit http://brevardclerk.us/case-search, click on General Public Court Records Search, then enter search term Antosia. Be sure to expand the time frame of your search from now back to 2017, in order to retrieve all records.