RACINE — A Racine man accused of dragging a dog with his van was sentenced to probation Tuesday.
Peter M. Valente, 54, of the 1400 block of LaSalle Street, pleaded no contest to an amended misdemeanor charge of intentionally mistreating animals. He had originally been charged with felony mistreatment of animals and intentionally leading an animal from a motor vehicle.
During his plea and sentencing hearing, Valente briefly addressed the court. “I’m just so sorry this happened,” Valente said.
Assistant District Attorney Micha Schwab said the state offered Valente a plea deal because they were unable to meet the burden of proof required for the felony conviction.
“As your honor knows, I have the highest burden, which is to prove every element beyond a reasonable doubt,” Schwab said. “In order to prove a felony, I had to prove intent, and with all the evidence I have, I would not be able to prove intent without a reasonable doubt.”
Schwab recommended one year initial incarceration, plus one year extended supervisor, stayed for one year of probation. A stayed sentence means Valente would not serve the sentence unless he violated terms of the purposed one-year probation.
The sentence would run consecutively to a revocation sentence Valente served after being arrested while on probation for a previous crime.
Valente’s attorney, Gregory Holdahl, also asked Racine County Circuit Court Judge Wynne Laufenberg to follow the state’s recommendation.
“I don’t think any jury would believe that he had the purpose and the mental intent to tie this dog to the car and essentially go on a joyride,” Holdahl said. “It doesn’t fit his character, it doesn’t fit the way he lived at that house, it doesn’t fit the way he cares about animals and I just don’t think it was appropriately charged. I think finally, after almost exactly one year, the appropriate resolution is in place.”
Laufenberg ultimately agreed with the stayed sentence, stating she understood the state being unable to prove his burden, but impressed the seriousness of the crime on Valente, and his choice to drink while he was on probation for a prior crime.
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“Clearly, I think most sober individuals who are driving a conversion van would have been aware of something being dragged behind their car,” Laufenberg said. “Intentional or negligent, it certainly in and of itself is a despicable act, for a dog to be dragged behind a vehicle.”
In his year of probation, Valente may not own or take care of an animal or reside with someone with animals.
Severely injured dog
According to the criminal complaint, on Aug. 11, 2017, Racine police were dispatched to the 1600 block of LaSalle Street. A witness said she heard a metal dragging noise, looked out the window and saw a van dragging a dog down the street. The dog eventually broke away from the van.
Two witnesses found the badly injured dog and thought it was hit by a car. When police spoke with the 58-year-old Vaughn Johnson, the dog’s owner, he said he knew the dog was hurt, but did not know how badly. When asked about the van in the yard, Johnson said it belonged to Valente.
Police found Valente sleeping in the van, and could smell alcohol on his breath. They asked him about a dog being dragged, and Valente denied it.
The 8-year-old dog named Rocky was taken to a veterinarian, who said the dog’s injuries were consistent with being dragged. Rocky’s injuries included bruising and road rash to his stomach and testicles, exposed tendons with black cauterization to all four legs and open and exposed paw pads.
The vet said that Rocky was in poor condition before the accident and may have needed to be euthanized due to its injuries. In May, Johnson also was charged with intentionally mistreating animals.
Rocky later made a full recovery and in November, was adopted and moved to Colorado.
“Clearly, I think most sober individuals who are driving a conversion van would have been aware of something being dragged behind their car. Intentional or negligent, it certainly in and of itself is a despicable act, for a dog to be dragged behind a vehicle.” Racine County Circuit Court Judge Wynne Laufenberg