A 24-year-old Spokane man convicted in an Idaho animal cruelty case was sentenced to local jail after a two-hour hearing Thursday in Coeur d’Alene.
Austin Matott was sentenced to the maximum 180 days in jail for two misdemeanors including cruelty to animals and beating or harassing animals. The case started in the summer of 2017 near Hauser when a dog named Hank sustained fatal injuries.
First District Magistrate Judge Robert Burton suspended part of the sentence, calling for a total of around five months behind bars and two years of supervised probation. Matott was convicted earlier this year.
The death of Hank, an 11-month-old Welsh corgi and red heeler mix, resulted in a campaign to make animal cruelty a felony instead of a misdemeanor in Idaho.
On Thursday, Judge Burton scolded a group charged with using Matott’s case as a springboard to change animal cruelty laws.
“It’s inappropriate to use the court system as a means to change laws,” Burton told about 60 people in a packed courtroom, including supporters of the “Justice for Hank” campaign. “That’s up to the Legislature.”
He upbraided the group for allowing commenters to attack Matott on its social media page.
“It’s inappropriate to ever for any reason belittle or harass other people,” Burton said.
Then Burton meticulously reviewed the case, including testimony from a March jury trial where six jurors found Matott guilty of both misdemeanors.
The judge called Matott cowardly for his part in the death of the small dog and for failing to appear at an earlier sentencing. Matott was later arrested on a warrant.
“Mr. Matott did commit this crime and it definitely is a crime,” Burton said. “These injuries were so severe (the necropsy) couldn’t tell which one of the injuries caused the death.”
He called Matott’s testimony “totally not believable,” and said Matott attempted to cover up the cause of the dog’s injuries that included broken ribs, head and jaw bruises, a brain hemorrhage, ruptured liver and lacerated lung.
Matott testified in March that the dog had received the injuries in a freak accident by falling off a deck and hitting a board.
More than a dozen witnesses, including family members and friends, testified that Matott was caring, kind and a loving pet owner who would not hurt an animal.
Dakota Goin, the dog’s owner, said the death of her pet more than a year ago has made her distrustful of others, depressed and it resulted in divisions among friends.
Deputy prosecutor Art Verharen asked the court for a stiffer sentence — not just for the fatal beating of the dog or for Matott’s unwillingness to take responsibility, but for “the level of deception that’s going on here.”
“The worst thing I can think of is what he has done to his family and friends,” Verharen said. “He’s convinced them he didn‘t do that.”
Goin and her boyfriend shared a house in Hauser with Matott and some others in the summer of 2017 when the incident occured. Goin left Hank with Matott so she could watch her sister’s softball game in Spokane. While she was there, Matott called her to inform her that Hank had been injured. She and her boyfriend rushed the dog to a veterinarian but Hank died on the way there.
Burton also ordered $241 in restitution and that Matott pay $600 in fines.