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    Sunday, April 14, 2024

    Man charged in assault on Montville K9 gets 4 years prison

    Montville Police Officer Danie Witts and K9 Barrett at a June 1, 2023 farewell service at All Friends Animal Hospital in Norwich.
    Montville police K9 Barrett.

    A Norwalk man who repeatedly punched and gouged at the eyes of a Montville police K9 during his attempted getaway from a drunken-driving crash in 2021 was sentenced to four years in prison Thursday.

    Presley Almanzar-DeJesus, 27, pleaded guilty before Judge John Newson in New London Superior Court to two counts of illegal possession of a firearm and one count of animal cruelty but denies causing the death of Montville police K9 Barrett, a German shepherd who died 18 months after the assault.

    Half a dozen Montville police officers who think Barrett’s death was the result of the assault were in court for Almanzar-DeJesus’ court appearance.

    “He was not just a dog,” Montville Police Officer Lindsey Michaels said in court. “He was a brother officer to each of us.”

    Montville police have blamed Barrett’s brain bleeds and seizures that led to his eventual euthanization on the Dec. 12, 2021, assault. On that morning, police said Almanzar-DeJesus was intoxicated when he crashed at the intersection of routes 12 and 2A in Preston. Police said Almanzar-DeJesus pointed a weapon at responding Montville Police Officer Daniel Witts and fled into the woods.

    Witts’ K9 partner Barrett chased and subdued Almanzar-DeJesus by latching onto his leg. Almanzar-DeJesus punched the dog at least 10 times and gouged his eyes, police said. Almanzar-DeJesus, who was subdued with a Taser, was treated for cuts to his face and puncture wounds to his leg.

    Michael Riley, Almanzar-DeJesus’ attorney, said state prosecutors have produced no evidence, such as a necropsy or body camera footage, to corroborate claims that Barrett’s death was caused by the assault.

    Assistant State’s Attorney Steven Carney, who prosecuted the case, said the state had not pursued specific charges against Almanzar-DeJesus in connection with Barrett’s death despite the fact a proposed three-year sentence was increased to four years.

    “I don’t believe as a matter of law I could prove causation as to the cause of the death of K9 Barrett,” Carney said.

    Carney said the state’s original plea deal with Almanzar-DeJesus was for three years but that Judge Hillary Strackbein, previously the presiding judge in New London, had upped the prison time by a year after learning about Barrett’s injuries and about what the K9 meant to the police department and the community.

    Addressing the court on Thursday, Officer Michaels said K9 Barrett “did exactly what he was trained to do, trusting and performing faithfully for his handler, even while being repeatedly struck.”

    “Barrett’s absence is felt every single day. Because of the defendant, Barrett’s career, life and immeasurable bond with Dan were ripped away,” Michaels said. “Barrett never saw his 7th birthday. Barrett will not get to continue doing the work he loved with the dad he loved unconditionally. Barrett will not get to go home to his beloved humans, to receive endless love, pets and play ever again. Instead, Barrett’s life was unfairly and unnecessarily cut short because of the defendant before you.”

    Almanzar-DeJesus, whose prison sentence will be followed by five years of probation, pleaded guilty under the Alford Doctrine, which means he does not agree with all of the allegations against him but does not want to risk a trial and the possibility of a stiffer sentence.

    g.smith@theday.com

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