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Bugz's former owner sentenced in dog beating
The York City man captured on video last December punching and whipping his pit bull was sentenced Tuesday to two years of probation and fined $500.
Luis Junior Cruz-Padro will serve the first two months of his probation on electronically monitored house arrest and will perform 150 hours of community service over the course of his two-year sentence.
Common Pleas Court Judge Michael E. Bortner also ordered him to pay all of the court costs associated with his case and to make restitution to the York County SPCA for the $347 it spent treating Bugz the dog's injuries.
"From the depths of my soul, I am truly sorry," Cruz-Padro said in a tearful apology read aloud to the court.
Background: His actions were recorded Dec. 12 by one of his former neighbors on East South Street in York City. The 2½-minute video went viral on social media Dec. 14, prompting dozens of people to alert the York County SPCA, executive director Melissa Smith has said.
Bugz was removed from the home by a private animal rescue before being turned over to the SPCA. Cruz-Padro's then-fiancee, now wife, also turned over an 8- to 10-week old pit bull puppy that was sired by Bugz, according to Smith.
Both dogs have since been adoped by loving families, Smith has said.
Guilty: Cruz-Padro, 28, pleaded guilty to a single count of animal cruelty in Bortner's courtroom on April 19. A pre-sentencing investigation was conducted prior to Tuesday's sentencing. Bortner said he had received and reviewed both the pre-sentencing investigation report and the video showing Cruz repeatedly striking Bugz in the side and body with closed fists. He then whipped the dog, which was tethered to a pole, several times before walking out of the frame.
"It is disturbing," Bortner said. "And a little disgusting."
Bortner considered imposing an order forcing Cruz-Padro to perform his community service at the county animal shelter, but both Deputy Prosecutor Sarah Buhite and Humane Society police Officer Nicole Lawrence said they would be opposed to such an order.
"It's pretty standard to not have them do their community service with animals. And if you think about it, it makes sense, because animals at the SPCA typically are abandoned or are high need, so you don't necessarily want to put people into a volatile situation like that," Buhite said.
Lawrence agreed, saying there is no way — despite Cruz-Padro showing remorse in the courtroom — to predict whether he was capable of harming another animal.
Backlash: Defense attorney David Erhard made a plea for leniency on his client's behalf, telling Bortner that since the video of the beating was made public, both Cruz-Padro and his family have received threats and harassing messages on social media, and Cruz-Padro has been physically assaulted.
"He has already suffered some consequences," Erhard told the court, adding some of the rhetoric online crossed the line into terroristic threats.
Cruz-Padro also was ordered to comply with drug and alcohol screening — standard, although neither drugs nor alcohol played a role in the case — along with the mental health counseling and anger-management sessions he has been undergoing for the past few months.
"I think it was an appropriate sentence," Erhard said. "I think the probation office prepared an objective and reasonable report for the judge to consider, and I think the judge considered everything very thoroughly."
Letter: In reading his letter to the court — during which he became emotional and was asked to slow down while reading so the court reporter could take his statement down properly — Cruz-Padro said he lost his temper with Bugz when the animal's behavior changed after his puppies were taken away and Cruz's fiancee gave birth to a new baby.
Cruz-Padro said he got Bugz and Bugz's sister Lula at the same time.
"They were so small they could fit in your hand," he said.
The puppies grew and were inseparable, and so were he and Bugz, Cruz-Padro said. But when Lula became pregnant and gave birth to a litter, Bugz became more territorial. The dog's demeanor continued to change when the puppies began being adopted and, ultimately, when Cruz's fiancee asked him to give Lula away, too, out of fear she would not adjust well to a newborn baby.
It was Bugz who failed to adjust, Cruz-Padro said. He attacked the baby and was snapping over Cruz's fiancee's shoulder when he came into the room on the day of the beating, Cruz-Padro said, adding he lost control while "over-disciplining" the dog.
He concluded the letter to the court by saying how much he missed his dog.
"I miss his hugs, his kisses and his company," Cruz-Padro said.