University at Buffalo football players charged in beating of miniature poodle with leather belt

Both men could face a maximum sentence of one year in jail.

June 30, 2023, 7:31 AM

Two University at Buffalo football players have been charged after a video of them allegedly beating a miniature poodle with a leather belt was posted on social media.

Blake Hiligh -- a 19-year-old from Alexandria, Virginia -- and Zachary Pilarcek -- a 20-year-old from Endicott, New York -- were arraigned in Buffalo, New York, on Thursday when they appeared before Amherst Town Court Justice Geoffrey Klein in regard to accusations that they beat a miniature poodle with a leather belt.

The defendants became the subject of an investigation after the SPAC Serving Erie County received a report of animal abuse after a video of the alleged beating was posted on social media.

"It is alleged that on the evening of June 13, 2023, at approximately 9:00 p.m., the defendants, while acting in concert with one another, beat a dog under their care and custody with a leather belt," read a press release from the Erie County District Attorney's Office published on Thursday. "The alleged crime occurred inside of an apartment on Sweet Home Road in the Town of Amherst. A video of the alleged incident was posted on social media."

"The following day, on June 14, 2023, the SPCA Serving Erie County seized the dog, a 4-year-old male miniature Poodle named 'Kobe.' Both defendants were charged and given an appearance ticket to be arraigned," read the press release. "The dog was immediately transported to the SPCA Serving Erie County's veterinary team where he received treatment for bruises and abrasions. 'Kobe' remains under the care of the SPCA at an undisclosed location."

Both Hiligh and Pilarcek were charged on Thursday with one count of overdriving, torturing and injuring animals and one count of failure to provide proper sustenance. If convicted of these charges, both men could face a maximum sentence of one year in jail.

Hiligh and Pilarcek both played football at the University of Buffalo but were subsequently suspended and then dismissed from the program following the incident.

"I want to thank our partners at the SPCA for their work in this investigation and the many services that they provide to help animals in our community. I also commend the University at Buffalo and the UB Football program for taking immediate action, which further demonstrates that animal abuse will not be tolerated in this community," said Erie County District Attorney John Flynn.

Pilarcek is scheduled to return to court on July 27 at 9:30 a.m. for further proceedings regarding this case while Hiligh is scheduled for Aug. 3 at 9:30 a.m.

"Both were released on their own recognizance as charge is a non-qualifying offense for bail," said Erie County's District Attorney's Office. "Judge Klein issued a temporary order that prevents that defendants from owning or caring for any animals while the case is pending."

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney Christine M. Garvey of the Felony Trials Bureau and Assistant District Attorney Richard K. Barney, III of the Justice Courts Bureau.

Both Hiligh and Pilarcek are presumed innocent until proven guilty. The investigation is ongoing.