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Wednesday, Apr 21, 2004County: Collier
Alleged: Lucas Benitez
Lucas Benitez was arrested Wednesday and charged with chaining his dog behind a van and dragging it through the street. Benitez is the leader of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and a well-known leader of the farmworkers rights coalition, and was the recipient of the 2003 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award winner. Benitez told Collier County sheriff's deputies that the dog smelled and he didn't want to put the animal in the van with him.
Benitez, 28, of 218 W. Main St., Immokalee, was charged with animal cruelty and booked into the Immokalee jail on $1,000 bond.
Arrest reports give this account:
On Wednesday morning, a deputy stopped at a stop sign spotted Benitez driving a brown, full-sized van traveling north on South Third Street at a slow speed. The deputy saw that a brown dog was chained to the van's trailer hitch.
The van was traveling around 5 mph and the dog was trying to free itself from the van by pulling away from the vehicle, the deputy said.
The dog was falling forward and rolling onto its right side and then onto its back. The dog was dragged about 50 feet while rolling from its back, onto its side and then back to its feet. The dog repeatedly tried to break free from the chain.
Concerned for the dog's safety, the deputy turned on his emergency lights to stop the van. Benitez pulled over in front of the coalition office on West Main Street.
When the deputy told Benitez why he had stopped the van, Benitez told him that it was his dog. The dog had run away in the morning and he'd just found it. He said the dog smelled "really bad" and that he did not want to put it inside his van. That's why he secured it to the rear of the van.
He said he didn't know the dog was struggling back there and said he was going slow so that the dog could keep up.
After Benitez was handcuffed and placed in a patrol car, members of the coalition confronted the four deputies then at the scene.
Deputies were waiting for Domestic Animal Services officers to come take the dog.
A woman had offered to translate for Benitez, but deputies said that he spoke English clearly enough to communicate with the officers.
That woman accused the deputy of arresting him because of his ethnic background. Benitez came to the United States from Mexico.
"(...The woman) relayed to me that Benitez is an upstanding member of the community and for this reason I should release Benitez and just issue him a court date," the report says.
Other members of the coalition tried "to become confrontational." The deputy said he remained calm and gave the coalition members his name and identification number.
A Domestic Animal Services officer photographed the dog and said the dog had black tar from the pavement on its fur and visible injuries. The dog was going to be checked out by a veterinarian.
Deputies say they checked with state prosecutors and advised them of the case.
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