The Coffee County Sheriff’s department assisted with a multi-state raid on an underground dog-fighting network Aug. 23.
Multiple agencies have been working on the investigation for three years, and Coffee County authorities have been involved for more than two.
The FBI served search warrants at a residence on Highway 84 in Coffee County, near the Covington County line, in the early hours of Aug. 23.
At the request of the United States Attorney's Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Humane Society of the United States and The ASPCA(The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) assisted in seizing 367 dogs in Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia in what is believed to be the second-largest dog fighting raid in U.S. history.
After a three-year investigation initiated by the Auburn Police, 13 search warrants were executed Friday morning, Aug. 23, throughout Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Texas. Ten suspects were arrested and indicted on felony dog fighting charges. Federal and local officials also seized firearms and drugs, as well as more than $500,000 in cash from dog fighting gambling activities that took place over the course of the investigation. Remains of dead animals were also discovered on some properties where dogs were housed and allegedly fought. If convicted, defendants could face up to five years in prison, as well as fines and restitution.
According to the FBI, the following individuals were arrested in Alabama on Aug. 23 after being indicted for violations of the federal dog fighting statute and the federal gambling statute:
• Donnie Anderson—48 years old, of Auburn, Alabama
• Demontt Allen—37 years old, of Houston, Texas
• William Antone Edwards—42 years old, of Brantley, Alabama
• William Oneil Edwards—39 years old, of Elba, Alabama
• Robin Stinson—40 years old, of Elba, Alabama
• Michael Martin—54 years old, of Auburn, Alabama
• Lawrence Watford—35 years old, of Adel, Georgia
• Ricky Van Le—24 years old, of Biloxi, Mississippi
• David Sellers—52 years old, of Opelika, Alabama
• Sandy Brown—47 years old, Brownsville, Alabama
ASPCA and The HSUS responders helped manage the removal and transport of the dogs to temporary emergency shelters in undisclosed locations. Responders are also providing veterinary care and behavior enrichment to the dogs, which are estimated to range in age from just several days to 10-12 years. Both groups also assisted authorities with collecting forensic evidence to be submitted for prosecution.
Conditions of the dogs varied, but one veterinarian commented on the large number of the dogs that appeared emaciated. In one yard, 114 dogs, the majority tethered to heavy chains, sat in 90 degree heat, scratching at fleas, with no fresh water or food visible anywhere on the property. Some appeared to have no access to water at all, and many exhibited wounds, scars and other conditions consistent with dog fighting.
Makeshift, filthy dog houses—many improvised from plastic and metal barrels and others made of chipboard with rotting wood floors and rusted metal roofing—provided the only shelter in the sweltering heat and humidity. Some dogs pulled at chains and cables that were tethered to cinder blocks and car tires. A female dog did her best to tend to six puppies, just weeks old, with no food or water, in a pen littered with trash and feces.
"We are committing to eradicating dog fighting in every dark corner where it festers," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS. "This series of raids reminds every dogfighter that they are not beyond the law and their day of reckoning will come."
"Today we ended the torture of hundreds of abused and neglected dogs," said Matt Bershadker, president and CEO of the ASPCA. "Never again will these dogs be forced to fight, live in squalor or be neglected and deprived of the bare necessities. The ASPCA is extremely grateful to federal and local authorities who pursued this widespread investigation for so long, and we are happy to lend our assistance."
"These defendants were betting between $5,000 and $200,000 on one dog fight," stated U.S. Attorney George L. Beck, Jr.. "The number of dogs seized and the amount of money involved this in case shows how extensive this underworld of dog fighting is. These dog fighters abuse, starve and kill their dogs for the supposed ‘fun' of watching and gambling on a dog fight. Their behavior is deplorable, will not be tolerated and will be punished to the full extent of the law."
"The sheer number of dogs seized speaks volumes as to the inhumane and violent abuse of animals associated with the illegal practices of drug activity afflicting our communities," stated Stephen Richardson, FBI Special Agent in Charge, Mobile Division.
"This is a great example of federal, state and local agencies working together to make communities safer," stated Paul Register, Auburn Police Division Chief. "It is not just about the egregious act of dog fighting itself, but the other criminal activity that is affiliated with it. It is important that local law enforcement, such as the Auburn Police Division, work together with other agencies to address crimes that affect the entire country."
Agencies assisting the ASPCA and The HSUS with the operation include: Florida State Animal Response Coalition and Sumter Disaster Animal Response Team (Bushnell, Fla.); University of Florida (Gainesville); Humane Society of South Mississippi (Gulfport); International Fund for Animal Welfare (Yarmouth Port, Mass.); Asheville Humane Society (Asheville, N.C.); Charleston Animal Society (Charleston, S.C.); Louisiana SPCA (New Orleans); American Humane Association (Washington, D.C.); Greater Birmingham Humane Society (Birmingham, Ala.); Atlanta Humane Society (Atlanta, Ga.); PetSmart Charities (Phoenix, Ariz.); Code 3 Associates (Longmont, Colo.); and Montgomery Humane Society (Montgomery, Ala.).
Dog fighting is a felony in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Additional illegal activities are often connected with dog fighting, such as drug and weapons violations. Earlier this year, the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act was reintroduced in the U.S. Congress, which would make it a federal offense to attend an organized animal fight and impose additional penalties for bringing a minor to a fight. The HSUS and ASPCA support legislation to strengthen the federal and state animal fighting statutes, and regularly assist local, state and federal authorities on dog fighting investigations and raids across the country.