77ºF

Trial set for Florida officer charged in K-9's hot-car death

Eric Antosia charged with animal cruelty

MELBOURNE, Fla. – The Sebastian police officer charged with animal cruelty after his K-9 partner died in the backseat of a police vehicle will go to trial next week.

Eric Michael Antosia, 41, of Melbourne, is charged with animal cruelty, a first-degree misdemeanor. 

According to a police report, Antosia went to a court proceeding April 28 and took his K-9 partner, Diesel, with him. 

"When he returned home, he forgot to remove his dog from the patrol vehicle. He shut the vehicle off and went inside his home," the report said. "The vehicle's windows were rolled up and since the vehicle was off, the air conditioner was also off."

According to News 6 partner Florida Today, officials estimate the animal was left in the vehicle for several hours. National Weather Service officials reported the temperature was about 88 degrees for much of the afternoon.

Upon discovering the German shepherd in the backseat of the vehicle, Antosia called a Sebastian police corporal, who called a Sebastian police dispatcher, who called Melbourne police, according to court records.

The police report said a necropsy was performed by veterinarian Angela Cail, who determined the dog died from heat stroke. 

Antosia was charged Aug. 23. He is on administrative leave without pay, according to Sebastian Police Commander John Blackledge.

"The officer is devastated," said Lt. Cheryl Trainer, spokeswoman for the Melbourne Police Department. "It's just awful."

In a hearing Monday, Antosia's attorney, Gregory Eisenmenger, motioned to dismiss the charges. Eisenmenger argued Antosia was using a police vehicle that was set up differently than his usual vehicle.

All Sebastian K-9 officers' vehicles are equipped with an alarm system called "Hot-N-Pop" that lowers the windows, sounds the horn, flashes the lights and pages the officer when temperatures reach 90 degrees, according to court records.

Blackledge said Antosia was assigned at the time of Diesel's death to Unit 84, but the incident occurred in Unit 15, "the back-up K-9 unit." 

"It is equipped with the same features as the four handlers’ regularly assigned vehicles," Blackledge said.

The motion for dismissal argued the vehicle Antosia usually used did have the same alarm system, but it was set not set to sound the alarm when the car was off and it did not alert Antosia to remove his dog when the ignition was turned off.

"The vehicle had been reset to factory default settings without any notice to Officer Antosia that the settings were different than his normally assigned vehicle," the motion said.

The motion for dismissal was denied Monday. A jury trial is set to begin Oct. 30 in Melbourne.

After the criminal proceedings end, Blackledge said an internal affairs investigation into the officer's actions will begin, as is standard procedure.

Antosia had been a K-9 handler since 2001 and a police officer for more than 20 years, according to court records. Diesel was his second dog.