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Homeless Man Arrested in Brutal Abuse of Pet Tortoise at San Jose Preschool

SAN JOSE (CBS SF) -- A homeless man was arrested Saturday in San Jose for allegedly destroying property and stabbing a pet tortoise at a preschool.

Michelangelo the Tortoise Recovering from Attack
Michelangelo the Tortoise is recovering from an attack Saturday. (CBS)

San Jose police responded around 11:30 a.m. Saturday to the Play 'n' Learn preschool at 505 Massar Ave following a report of a man acting erratically and destroying property. Officers located a suspect fleeing the scene and arrested him without incident.

Subsequent investigation revealed about $1,800 in damage to the school building and playground. In addition, a 65-pound tortoise named Michelangelo was stabbed through its outer shell with a piece of wood and showed signs of additional, recent abuse.

George Robles
George Robles. (San Jose Police Dept Photo)

The suspect has been identified as an unhoused San Jose resident named George Robles, age 40. He is being charged with felony vandalism and animal abuse.

Police said Robles continued acting erratically in custody and was placed on a 72-hour emergency mental health evaluation.

"Abuse of an innocent animal is intolerable and must be addressed," said acting police chief Dave Tindall in an e-mail. "This underscores the need for continued collaboration with our mental health professionals. I am thankful for our officers crisis intervention training which resulted in a safe arrest for all those involved."

After an overnight surgery at Archvet Animal Hospital in San Jose, the tortoise appeared to be doing well on Sunday.

Michelangelo was walking around and seemed still to be people-friendly but its trauma was evident. Any loud, sudden noises would cause him to pull back into his shell.

"This is a brutal attack on something that can't defend himself," said Dr. Tal Solomon of Archvet Animal Hospital. "He can't even run away. I've been doing this for almost 11 years now and this is a first for me."

A tortoise-rescue program donated the African tortoise to Play 'n' Learn four years ago. The kids named him Michelangelo after the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle cartoon character.

"The kids love him," said preschool teacher Brooke Lariz. "They get so excited ... He loves to be around the kids, he's just a happy little tortoise," Lariz added then quickly corrected herself because Michelangelo is not that little. He weighs about 70 pounds and is about two feet long.

On Saturday morning, police said a homeless man hopped over the school fence and attacked Michelangelo in the school garden.

"I thought he was dead when I saw this in there. So it was almost a good feeling when he hissed at me because I knew he was alive," said Tammy Lariz, the preschool administrator. She was referring to a rake handle and a piece of 4 by 4 pressure-treated wood found impaled Michelangelo's shell.

"Whenever he would move or we would try to move him, more blood would come," Lariz said.

It appeared the attacker beat the tortoise with garden tools and objects taken from a classroom.

"It just made no sense. I can't even comprehend how you could be that disgusting to do that to an animal," Brooke Lariz said.

Dr. Solomon said Michelangelo should make a full recovery and be able to go back to the kids. The challenge now is how to explain and help the preschoolers cope with the attack.

© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. KPIX correspondent Da Lin contributed to this report

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