The killing of the dog named Ponce in Ponce Inlet sparked outrage and led to the passage of Ponce’s Law.
DAYTONA BEACH — Travis Archer, the man arrested at his Ponce Inlet home in the beating death of his Labrador retriever puppy, was sentenced Wednesday to 365 days in jail and three years of probation.
The sentencing by Circuit Judge Sandra Upchurch concludes a 2 1/2-year case that sparked an anti-animal cruelty movement, threats against Archer and even a state law named after Ponce, the dog whose body police discovered bloodied and beaten in Archer’s backyard.
Archer, 46, entered a no contest plea to felony animal cruelty after he lost legal battles at the 5th District Court of Appeal and then saw the state Supreme Court decline to review the case. Archer had faced a maximum of a year in jail and five years’ probation.
Archer was arrested on April 8, 2017, after a neighbor heard a dog being beaten and called police. Officers found Ponce dead in the backyard and arrested Archer, who claimed he had only smacked the dog with his hands.
Upchurch said she had given the sentence a lot of thought.
“The sentence that I’m imposing has absolutely not been crafted to appease a mob mentality,” Upchurch said. “Rather it is being imposed after many, many sleepless nights.”
Archer did not show any emotion as the judge said he would spend the next year in jail. According to records, he has credit for two days time served.
But he was emotional at times as he sat at the defense table, appearing to hold back tears and wiping at his eyes with tissue as his ex-wife testified that Archer’s legal problems had affected him and therefore affected their children. She said Archer was a doting father who loved his two daughters.
Archer took the stand Wednesday and his testimony was the first time he’s spoken publicly about the incident. He seemed to struggle with his emotions.
“I sincerely apologize for my actions and the harm that I have caused my dog and the one’s that I love,” he said. “I am ashamed and embarrassed.”
He had told Ponce Inlet police that the 9-month-old, 70-pound Labrador had bitten him.
“My reaction to being bit was inexcusable,” Archer said in court.
He said he wished he had shown more restraint.
“Had I done so I would not have broken the hearts of my children and embarrassed myself and my family and I would still have my dog,” Archer said.
He said he had lost friends and business relationships and placed his successful career as an accountant in jeopardy.
“I am committed to being a better person,” he said. “I always helped others and been a positive contributor to society.”
Upchurch sentenced Archer to the year in jail as a condition of his three years of probation. That means he will serve the first year of probation in jail and will serve the next two once he is released. She ordered Archer to pay a $5,000 fine with the money going to a Labrador rescue group in North Florida or the Halifax Humane Society.
She also said she appreciated that Archer had agreed to pay the nearly $8,000 cost of storing the dog’s body as evidence. Upchurch also ordered that Archer never own a pet again, which was a condition Archer had agreed to prior to the sentence.
She ordered that Archer not drink alcohol during his probation. She also ordered him to undergo a mental health evaluation and receive anger management therapy.
Upchurch withheld adjudication, meaning that the felony crime will not appear as a conviction on Archer’s record.
During Wednesday’s hearing the judge heard a 9-1-1 call, watched body-worn camera video of the police response and heard a veterinarian describe the lethal injuries Ponce suffered.
According to a necropsy and a veterinarian who testified, Archer inflicted horrible injuries on his dog the night he was arrested.
Ponce suffered multiple lacerations, seven puncture wounds, a fractured jaw, crushed teeth, a broken rib and a punctured lung, according to the necropsy.
Veterinarian Rachel Touroo testified under questioning by Assistant State Attorney Spencer Hathaway that the dog suffered in pain as the animal was beaten. She said that the dog died of shock and difficultly breathing.
Andrew Garber, a mental health counselor, testified for the defense saying that Archer went to see him for anxiety and depression after he was arrested. He said that Archer had been working on his temper and had greatly reduced it. That led to a clash with Hathaway who said by Garber’s own testimony Archer still had work to do on his temper. Garber denied that characterization.
Archer’s defense attorney Aaron Delgado asked that the judge not send Archer to jail, saying that he had suffered enough and there was nothing to gain from locking him up. Delgado said that if allowed to remain free on probation Archer could better meet financial obligations the court imposed and he would also be able to continue to pay child support for his two young daughters. Delgado said that Archer would become a target in jail.
Hathaway asked for the year in jail followed by two years of community control, essentially house arrest, followed by probation.
The dog’s killing gave rise to a Facebook group with 9,000 current members. It spurred 114,764 people to sign an online petition calling for harsher penalties for animal cruelty. And it led to Ponce’s Law, which increases the possibility that an animal abuser will go to prison and gives judges the right to ban someone from having a pet for life.
“The defendant’s attack of his pet companion Ponce was brutal and deadly,“ R.J. Larizza said in a prepared statement released after the sentencing. ”The silver lining of this case is that the legislature increased the possible penalty for future crimes of this nature. Justice equals accountability, and that was achieved today.”
Outgoing Ponce Inlet Police Chief Frank Fabrizio said he was happy with the sentence and hoped that Archer’s testimony was sincere.
“I believe he is remorseful,” Fabrizio said. “I hope he can learn in the future to forgive himself for this tragic incident.”
After the sentencing, Debbie Darino, who led the push for Ponce’s Law and demanded punishment for Archer, said the judge had been “very fair.”
“If you abuse or torture or kill an animal, you go to jail,” Darino said. “And she followed the rule and we are very happy about the sentence. I’m especially happy on the ban on ever owning an animal again.”
She said she did not take joy in Archer’s emotional agony or the impact on is family.
Darino said “I don’t hate Travis Archer. I hate what Travis Archer did.”
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