A man accused of setting a young steer on fire at Paso Robles High School on Oct. 26 of last year has been sentenced to jail and ordered to seek treatment.
- PHOTO BY KAORI FUNAHASHI
On Nov. 20, Garrett Kaplan, 24, of Paso Robles, pleaded no contest to felony animal cruelty. Kaplan was given a one-year sentence, 90 days of which are to be carried out in county jail, minus 13 days time served. The remainder of the sentence is to be spent at a live-in treatment facility, where Kaplan will undergo treatment for severe alcohol addiction. After serving his sentence, Kaplan will serve five years formal probation, which could be reduced to three years for good behavior.
Prosecutors alleged that Kaplan was under the influence of alcohol when he decided to walk to the high school, doused the then-five-month old steer named Panda with kerosene, and set him ablaze. Panda, who was at the school as part of the Future Farmers of America program, survived and was moved to the Animal Place Sanctuary in Northern California after an anonymous donor purchased him from his owners for $10,000. The family who owned Panda declined to comment.
As part of the court proceedings, Kaplan underwent a psychiatric evaluation, the results of which were not released to the public. Superior Court Judge Michael Duffy did say at the preliminary hearing, however, that the evaluation found that Kaplan suffered from severe alcohol addiction, which was said to have played a role.
Kaplan, wearing a navy blue blazer, black jeans, and short boots, stood front and center at a podium as Duffy read the court findings and went over sentencing. At one point, Duffy asked Kaplan if he understood his plea and the sentencing that accompanied it.
- PHOTO COURTESY OF ANIMAL PLACE SANCTUARY
- BLACK AND BLUE: Panda the steer roams free in a field at the Animal Place Sanctuary in Northern California. Garrett Kaplan won’t be so free for the next year, after receiving a jail sentence for dousing Panda in kerosene and lighting him on fire, causing damage to several parts of his body, including his ears.
“I’m trying to understand what’s going on right now,” Kaplan said, as the details were visibly sinking in. Several people attended the Nov. 20 hearing and a few previous hearings to ask that Kaplan recieve the maximum punishment possible. Wearing lime green shirts, some of which read “Punish Animal Cruelty,” the members said they wanted to make sure that Kaplan received a sentence that reflected the crime, whether or not alcohol was to blame. “We just didn’t want him to slide under the radar,” said San Luis Obispo resident Diane Dieterich.
Another member of the group expressed concern that the crime was being treated as tantamount to property damage.
“It’s not property, it’s sentient property,” said Terre Dunivant. “It’s not a toaster, it’s an animal.”
In the end, however, Dunivant was relatively satisfied with the outcome.
“I felt that the court did respond appropriately,” Dunivant said. Kaplan’s attorney, David Fisher, told New Times he felt the sentencing was fair, and that he was glad the case didn’t need to proceed any further. “We wanted to settle it,” Fisher said. “He didn’t really want to go any farther with it; he felt awful.”
-- Melody DeMeritt - former city council member, Morro Bay