EL CAJON, Calif. -- The family of an Iraq war veteran charged with beating a 4-month-old puppy so badly that it had to be euthanized said their son's post-traumatic stress disorder is to blame for the abuse.
Cheryl Winget sat stoically inside an El Cajon courtroom Wednesday as her 26-year-old son, Phillip Shawn Rich, was arraigned on one count of felony animal cruelty.
After the arraignment, Winget broke down in tears while standing outside the courtroom.
"I want everybody to understand that he’s not the monster that you guys are making him out to be," Winget said. "He was a very good boy when he was growing up. The war changed my baby."
Winget said Rich had a dog when he was young and never hurt it.
Rich is accused of brutally abusing the Siberian Husky puppy over the weekend. One of Rich's friends told Fox 5 News that he saw Rich grab the puppy by its hind legs and repeatedly slam the puppy on the floor.
"The puppy suffered a tremendous amount of trauma. Some of the injuries included head trauma, a collapsed lung, as well as the puppy's hind femurs were broken," Deputy District Attorney Ryan Karkenny said in court.
The prosecutor said Rich was arrested early Sunday morning after he took the puppy to a veterinarian. Questioning his story of how the dog was injured, the vet called county animal control to investigate.
Horrified by what Rich is alleged to have done, family members said Rich suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
"We’re all appalled by the act, but we know it wasn’t Phillip," said Rich’s uncle, Samuel Green. "This is the product of war trauma."
Green said his nephew, an Army veteran, served two tours of duty in Iraq. During the first tour, Rich suffered head trauma when the Humvee he was driving hit an IED and three passengers died, Green said.
"It wasn’t recognized until after he was sent back," Green said. "That’s when the military actually relieved him because of PTSD."
Prosecutor Karkenny said authorities are investigating another incident of possible animal cruelty involving Rich. Karkenny revealed the news while asking the judge to increase Rich’s bail from $25,000 to $50,000.
"No, that came as a shock to me. I wasn’t aware. That surprised me actually," said Green.
Judge Charles Ervin denied the request for an increase in bail.
If convicted of the current charges, Rich could be sentenced to 3 years behind bars. Animal rights attorney Bryan Pease said it isn’t enough time.
"If somebody can beat an animal to the point where that animal needs to be put down, you really shouldn’t have that person in society," Pease said.
Rich is expected back in court on Feb. 2.