Eight arrested in weekend dog fight raid

Published 3:54 pm Tuesday, January 31, 2017

By Beth Alston

LESLIE — A weekend (Jan, 21-22) raid of a dog fighting ring near Leslie resulted in the arrests of eight people, and the seizure of approximately $18,000 in cash and eight vehicles, as well as the rescue of three dogs. Those arrested are from Americus, Jackson, Douglas, Hoboken, Fitzgerald, and Jacksonville, Ga. They are being housed in the Sumter County Jail.
More arrests are expected, according to the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office, which investigated the dog fighting ring, along with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Capt. Ralph Stuart, who heads up the investigations division of the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office, and Sheriff Pete Smith held a news conference Monday afternoon to release information on the raid, the arrests, and the culture of dog fighting.
Stuart said that around 10:30 p.m. Saturday, law enforcement went to 340 Sam Hill Dogleg Road, Leslie, to a “house at the end of the road,” to execute a search warrant. He said the house is owned by Chester and Narcissus Pitts, who were not at home at the time of the raid. The Lee County Sheriff’s Office, “on a moment’s notice,” assisted in the raid.
“They (those involved in the dog fights, owners as well as onlookers) saw us coming and scattered,” Stuart said. They did arrest six people at the scene however. They are Kevin Charles, 41, of Jackson; Samuel B. Cutts, 21, of Douglas; Terry Driggers, 67, of Hoboken, Ga.; Maurice Glover, 44, of Douglas; Shadon D. Johnson, 33, of Fitzgerald; and Alonza B. Jordan, 44, of 118 Southland Subdivision, Americus. They are all charged with dog fighting and related conduct.
Two others, Leslie Nichole Graham, 38, of Jacksonville, Ga.; and Demetrice L. King, 37, of Fitzgerald, were arrested in a traffic stop on Sunday. They are each charged with false statement or writings, concealment of facts or fraudulent documents in matters of government.
Seized at the Sam Hill Dogleg Road residence were eight vehicles, multiple firearms and approximately $18,000 in cash, along with dog fighting paraphernalia. Three pit bulldogs were rescued from the scene and taken to the Sumter Humane Society.
Stuart said when law enforcement arrived at the scene, they found a 15’ x 15’ carpeted pit on top of plywood. Three men and two dogs were in the pit. He said the second fight was in progress at the time. Both of those dogs were rescued and one is at a local veterinary hospital “battling for its life.” In the first fight, he said, the winner’s owner won money while the losing dog was hanged.
Stuart explained that the dog fighting community is very tight knit and secretive being that dog fighting is illegal. He said often dog fighters are also involved in other illegal activities such as gambling and drugs. He said most of the dog fights last an hour and a half. The dogs often die of heart attack or heat exhaustion. Some fights last until one dog kills the other.
“This a very cruel ‘sport,’” Stuart said. Onlookers are charged $100 each just to watch the brutality and large sums of money change hands.
“They’re so clandestine about when or where the fights are going to be held,” the sheriff said. “It may not happen until the last minute. This fight was supposed to have been in Douglas. … That’s why they’re so hard to catch. It ain’t their first rodeo. They do everything they can to hide from the law. They don’t take these dogs to the vet. They shoot ‘em with penicillin and something to try to ease the pain and we find them out in the county sometimes. The last I remember was two on the railroad tracks. We had to put both of them down because they were so chewed up.”
Stuart stressed that these dogs are trained to fight; they are not inclined to fight. He said the handler or “dog encourager” is allowed in the pit with his dog, “They can be locked in a death grip,” he said, “and the handler can say their name and they start wagging their tail.”
“They’re not trained as a family pet,” the sheriff said. “They’re trained to fight. It’s big money.”
Stuart said some of these dogs have bets of $60,000 on them, and if they win the three matches in a night, the owner can walk away with $360,000 in cash. “Some of these people are gainfully employed,” he said, “and … it makes you wonder how they can come up with $60,000 in cash.”
Stuart said drug charges are pending relative to the weekend raid. They have identified about six more suspects from here to North Florida, he said, and more arrests are forthcoming. He said they are taking this case federal with the USDA task force, and if convicted, the perpetrators face a minimum of five years in prison and some with records up to 10-15 years. “The sentences will be much more substantial if we charge them under RICO,” he added.
While there are no current charges against the property owners, Stuart said the property is subject to asset forfeiture. “The pit was a permanent fixture,” he said, “not portable.”
Sheriff Smith commented, “We will pursue any avenue the law allows to make the charges. All those who got away will be identified and arrested.” Stuart said some of those who got away last weekend had already been identified “before they set foot in Sumter County” and will be arrested.
Stuart said those involved were whites, blacks, and foreign nationals. “These groups of people are identified as a criminal organization that has been under investigation for several months,” he said.
Both Smith and Stuart said they can’t say enough about the USDA and Lee County’s assistance.
The investigation continues with assistance from multiple agencies from North Florida, Southeast Georgia and South Carolina.
Sheriff Smith said, “I don’t like people who beat a woman. I don’t like people who beat children. And I don’t like people who fight dogs, or are inhumane to animals.”