CARLTON, Minn. -- Longtime attorneys Thom Pertler and Kevin Short have handled high-profile cases involving cold-blooded murder, child abuse, sexual assault and other crimes that can only be described as heinous.
On Wednesday, they could agree on one thing: No case has drawn the level of public ire like that of Brett Berry, the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office deputy who was captured on video repeatedly striking his police dog outside a Carlton County hotel last summer.
"In all the years I've done this, of all the types of cases I've handled -- from child abuse to first-degree murder -- I haven't ever received this many emails and letters," said Pertler, the Carlton County attorney since 2005, who hoisted up a stack of a stack of papers easily six inches thick.
Short, whose legal career began in 1978, told 6th Judicial District Judge Leslie Beiers that he's "never seen anything that even amounts to a fraction" of the estimated 500 to 600 letters he said he received ahead of Berry's sentencing.
Berry, 48, was placed on one year of probation in lieu of a 90-day jail sentence for his animal cruelty conviction. Both attorneys -- perhaps addressing protesters in the audience as much as they were the judge -- stressed that the sentence is typical in a misdemeanor case for someone with no criminal history.
Berry admitted in January that he was "blackout drunk" when he was seen striking his partner, Boone, while attending a training event at Black Bear Casino Resort on June 15.
Surveillance video of the incident was released and has been widely circulated, sparking public outrage and inspiring multiple online pages and petitions in support of Boone, who was not injured.
Short said he doesn't blame animal rights activists for wanting a harsh sentence, but asked Beiers to sentence Berry in accordance with guidelines, not the sentiment of the community.
"This kind of lightning rod, this gross overreaction, is understandable to me because many of the people who write these letters have no idea how the criminal justice system works," Short said. "They're just angry and upset, and I have no problem with that."
Pertler, who also supported the probationary sentence recommended by Arrowhead Regional Corrections, made it clear that he was bound by state laws, which he said prohibited him from bringing any charge more serious than a misdemeanor.
Pertler said he considers Boone a victim, but said the dog is considered property in the eyes of the law.
"They own the dog. They have put a lot of money into Boone, and they have an interest in his well-being," Pertler said, adding that he was never contacted by any county representatives seeking to influence the sentencing.
About 10 activists were in the courtroom and were clearly disappointed in the probationary sentence.
As Berry and Short left the courthouse, they were confronted by two protesters. Berry quickly got in his car and left, but Short spent about 15 minutes having a spirited conversation with one woman in the parking lot.
Mary Nelson, who volunteers for the Friends of Animals shelter in Cloquet and has been to all of Berry's court appearances, said the case demonstrates the need for reform in animal abuse laws.
"As the public, I feel that our job is just getting started," she said. "We need to go to our legislators and demand that change. Otherwise, this just happens again. This should've been an officer-on-officer offense, not an officer-on-property offense."
Short suggested that his client has already paid a severe price for actions, citing the extensive outpouring of criticism that he has faced. He drew comparisons to last summer's killing of Cecil, a famous Zimbabwean lion, by a Minnesota dentist.
"I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that there has probably never been someone in the history of Minnesota who has paid such consequences for a first-offense misdemeanor," Short said of Berry's case.
Given a chance to speak before receiving his sentence, Berry simply stated: "I made a mistake, judge."
In addition to probation, Beiers ordered Berry to pay a $500 fine and reimburse Ramsey County for a $742 veterinarian bill, which Short said was already paid. While on probation, he must refrain from the use of alcohol and cannot own any pets, the judge said.
In handing down the sentence, Beiers said she was satisfied that Berry is receiving the help he needs for alcohol abuse, but said she views the case as a serious one.
"As a police officer sworn to protect and serve, which you have done for many years, you have the privilege of being a K-9 officer," she said. "It's those circumstances that make it an even more serious offense."
Berry's status as a law enforcement officer remains uncertain. Boone was taken from his custody shortly after the incident, and Berry was reassigned to the agency's detention unit.
Sgt. John Eastham, a spokesman for the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office, said Wednesday that an internal investigation is still ongoing.