Becnel abuse charges spark community backlash, custody dispute
DESTIN — The arrest of prominent local businessman Damon Becnel on charges he physically abused his daughter and tortured a family pet in front of her has created community backlash and re-ignited a nasty 15-year-old custody battle.
Becnel, who the Florida Division of Corporations lists as a managing partner of 26 businesses — among them president of Sandestin Police Department Inc. — was charged Jan. 2 with child cruelty and cruelty to animals.
The daughter, a 14-year-old, reported the abuse and provided police with video that appears to depict, graphically, a knife wielding Becnel abusing the girl and the animal.
The video shows the victim and two dogs in a bedroom. Becnel can be seen pulling out a knife and threatening one of the dogs while yelling, “I will cut this (expletives deleted) dog’s eyeballs out, I’ll (expletive deleted) do it,” the arrest report said.
Becnel later could be seen striking the dog and grabbing it by the throat and throwing it to the floor while the child yells at him to stop. The arrest report said he grabbed his daughter by the hair and pushed her head toward the bed, where it struck the bed frame.
The report said Becnel later re-engaged the victim and struck her in the head, causing her to bounce off a wall.
The video sparked the creation of a Facebook page called “Justice For Daughter Of Damon Becnel & Her Pets.” Thus far, more than 6,000 people have followed the page.
Following the arrest, Allison Tringas, the mother of Becnel’s daughter, filed a Petition for Injunction Against Domestic Violence on behalf of the girl.
The petition claims Becnel was intoxicated when he assaulted the teen and the dog and at one point during the confrontation, when she was pinned against a closet door, she “asked Damon if he was going to kill her, to which he replied ’maybe.’ ”
It states Becnel prevented the girl from leaving the home and took away her cell phone.
“(She) escaped Damon’s house while he was asleep and walked miles to Walmart in Destin, purchased a burner phone and called her babysitter,” the petition states.
The petition accuses Becnel of continuing to harass his daughter, and having a lawyer call her to warn her “not to say anything about this event because she will end up in foster care.”
The petition claims Becnel has a criminal history, has committed or threatened acts of domestic violence in the past, owns more than 20 guns, has drug and alcohol problems and a history of mental health issues.
On Monday, three days before a scheduled Thursday hearing on the injunction petition, Becnel’s attorney filed an “Urgent Motion for Continuance for Hearings Set for Jan. 16.”
It claims the petition filed by Tringas “contains outright fabrications and will be opposed separately and on the merits or lack thereof.”
It calls for the hearing to be continued so that the child can retain her own lawyer. It claims Tringas “is the last person who should be representing the child and definitely does not have the child’s best interests in mind.”
The call for continuance goes into detail about Tringas’s own history of substance abuse and mental illness and notes that a 2013 court judgment imposed parental time-sharing restrictions on Tringas.
Becnel and Tringas, who is also a member of a prominent Okaloosa County family, filed for divorce in February of 2005. Their last court battle, Clerk of Court records show, was in 2016. That case has once again been re-opened, court records show.
The Thursday hearing on the petition for a protective order has been canceled. The case has passed through the hands of five Okaloosa Circuit Court judges since Tringas filed her motion for a protective order Jan. 2.
Judges Terry Ketchel and Mary Polson recused themselves from the case Monday and Judge Michael Flowers and Judge William Stone recused themselves Tuesday.
Presently Judge John J. Gontarek is scheduled to hear the case.
Becnel is scheduled to be tried March 9 on the felony charge of child abuse and misdemeanor charge of cruelty to animals. Gontarek is also the judge slated to hear that case.