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Lincoln Co. animal abuser faces gun charge in Flathead

Daily Inter Lake | August 12, 2022 7:00 AM

A Lincoln County man already behind bars for animal cruelty is headed toward a three-day trial on an assault with a weapon charge in Flathead County District Court.

Prosecutors accuse Domingo J. Palafox, 31, of shooting at a pair of anglers on the Hungry Horse Reservoir in June 2020. At the time, he was just weeks away from being arrested by authorities in Lincoln County on charges of aggravated animal cruelty and two counts of tampering with a witness.

The two victims in the Flathead County case told investigators that they were fishing near Doris Point on June 5 when they heard gunshots, court documents said. They soon spotted a man standing on shore firing a rifle in their direction.

According to the victims, the man encouraged them to leave the area.

“What a wonderful [day] to be in America,” the man allegedly shouted from the shore. “We came out here to get away from people. Came to get away from [expletives] like you. We were here first. Why don’t you leave?”

The two anglers pulled anchor, fled and called 911, court documents said.

Deputies with the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office, working with Forest Service agents, found a man matching the description provided by the victims still in the area and identified him as Palafox. According to court documents, Palafox had changed clothes since the shooting. He also allegedly had hid the rifle in the woods.

Under questioning, Palafox allegedly admitted to shooting at the anglers and directed investigators to where they could find spent shells.

Meanwhile, a witness told authorities Palafox had explained to him that he was trying to “scare away” the anglers.

Just a day prior, residents of Troy and Libby led a march for justice in the community, offering a reward for information leading to the arrest of the individual who abandoned a badly abused dog earlier that year. The Alaskan malamute, who was renamed Percy, was found wandering by a Troy resident in March.

Turned over to authorities and then to a veterinarian, Percy suffered from burns, among other injuries, and was emaciated. Local animal activists soon concluded that someone likely had doused him with an accelerant and lit him on fire.

Word that the abuse was filmed quickly circulated in the small town. While local police were investigating, residents of both towns launched a campaign to bring the dog’s abuser to justice.

A few days later, Palafox confronted a man outside of an area gas station, according to court documents filed in Lincoln County District Court. The man allegedly had seen the video of Palafox lighting the animal ablaze. He and his brother would later tell authorities that Palafox threatened to take out a $10,000 bounty on their head if they talked to police.

The brothers came forward anyway. On June 22, authorities took Palafox into custody on one count of aggravated animal cruelty and two counts of tampering with a witness.

Percy, meanwhile, underwent surgeries and recovered from his injuries. Healthy, he found a new home with a Canadian.

Ultimately, Palafox pleaded guilty to the aggravated animal abuse charge in 2020. He was found guilty of the two tampering charges in a bench trial in December of that year.

District Judge Matthew Cuffe described the circumstances surrounding the case as both frightful and unique for Lincoln County while handing down his sentence in February 2021. Cuffe gave Palafox 10 years in the Montana State Prison with another 12 years under supervision. He cited the threat of taking out a professional contract on a witness as one reason for the lengthy sentence.

“The violence, the conduct, is almost unfathomable,” Cuffe said.

Nearly a year after Palafox’s case in Lincoln County reached its apex with a bench trial and guilty plea, authorities in Flathead County sought his arrest on the assault charge. A warrant was issued Nov. 2, 2021.

Palafox made his most recent appearance in district court, via video conferencing from Montana State Prison, on July 13. During the pretrial conference, defense attorney Nicholas Aemisegger requested a three-day trial, which was granted by Judge Heidi Ulbricht.

Palafox’s case is scheduled to go before a jury on Aug. 31. One final status conference is scheduled for Aug. 19.

If convicted, Palafox faces a maximum sentence of 20 years behind bars and a fine of $50,000.