A police officer in Florida who found his K-9 partner dead inside a scorching cop car has been charged with animal cruelty, officials said.
Sebastian Police Officer Eric Antosia is accused of leaving his partner, German shepherd Diesel, inside their patrol vehicle outside the Brevard County courthouse in Melbourne on April 28.
When Antosia returned about 7:30 p.m., the four-legged officer was dead, authorities said.
The State Attorney’s Office announced Wednesday that it was charging Antosia with one count of animal cruelty, a first-degree misdemeanor.
A trial date for Antosia, who has been with Sebastian Police for 14 years, has not yet been set.
He faces up to one year in jail if convicted of the charge.
Antosia was placed on administrative leave without pay effective immediately, pending the final outcome of the criminal case, which is standard procedure, Sebastian Police told WKMG-TV.
"Once the criminal case is finished, we will promptly complete an administrative investigation to gain a full understanding of what occurred, determine accountability and appropriate disciplinary action as the facts warrant," the department said in a statement obtained by the television station.
Diesel is one of at least 13 K-9 officers that have died this year after being left in vehicles that reached deadly temperatures, one more than last year’s total number of deaths recorded, according to records kept by PETA.
Holding responsible the person or persons overseeing the animal’s well-being is a crucial step in preventing future deaths of K-9 officers, said Daphna Nachminovitch, senior vice president of cruelty investigations at PETA.
“It’s important for the police department or whatever agencies are responsible to investigate thoroughly and not just chalk it up to something being an accident or someone being forgetful,” Nachminovitch told InsideEdition.com. “Not just to hold the handler accountable, but to take very serious, swift and significant steps to assure the prevention of it happening again.”
It was not immediately clear how long Diesel was left in the car, but temperatures that day reached 88 degrees, according other National Weather Service.
“Frankly, even being outside in 88-degree weather is hot,” Nachminovitch said. “And a car is essentially an oven. When it’s hot outside for you [a person], it’s even hotter for [a dog], and they sport fur coats, 24/7. They don’t have the ability to cool themselves with sweating like we do … when you put them in a metal box with no ventilation, you’re essentially cooking them. It’s a slow, agonizing death.”
Nachminovitch urged government officials to make changes to vehicles that would prevent tragedies from occurring, including installation of heat-alert systems that monitor temperatures inside a vehicle and allow an animal to exit a dangerous environment.
“There’s no excuse... law enforcement agencies [should] do everything they need to. Human error will continue to happen,” Nachminovitch said. “We’re very much hoping we don’t have another year next year where we break another record. Enough is enough.”
It’s not clear if any such system was in place in the vehicle in which Diesel died.