2 held in dog fight case

Arundel home raided

5 pit bulls, equipment seized

September 11, 2007|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,Sun reporter

Through the woods, the tipster could hear the sound of growling dogs, surrounded by men yelling and encouraging the animals. "Kill 'em!" they said as two pit bulls attacked another dog. "Break his leg!"

Police conducting surveillance over the next two days did not witness the dogfighting the tipster reported, according to court records. But they observed men walking pit bulls and assembling small, fenced-in areas thought to be used for fights. Later, they seized treadmills and ropes, which are often associated with training for dogfights.

Yesterday, two Severna Park residents were ordered held in lieu of $750,000 each on multiple dogfighting charges after police raided their home Friday, seizing five pit bulls and equipment that they suspect was used to train the animals.

With awareness of dogfighting raised by Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick's guilty plea last month, attention has focused on the blood sport's ties to the rural South and inner cities. But last week's police raid was in a secluded property in an affluent Anne Arundel County community.

The Humane Society of the United States estimates that about 40,000 people participate in organized dogfighting rings with high-stakes betting and that 100,000 dogs fight in less-formal settings such as spontaneous street matches.

County officials said such cases are extremely rare in Anne Arundel and that they could not recall any similar arrests.

"What cracked this case really was the citizen's tip," said Cpl. Mark L. Shawkey of the Anne Arundel County Police Department. The Vick case is "bringing dogfighting to people's attention, and they're going to be curious and look this stuff up on the Internet. If they see something like that going on in their neighborhood, we hope they would bring it to our attention."

After receiving the tip Wednesday, police went to a wooded area behind a home on Glenns Road, off Ritchie Highway and not far from Severna Park High School. There, an officer observed a man walking from a separate wooded area carrying a small cage containing a black dog that appeared dead. Several cars came and went at the home, which aroused suspicion of drug-dealing, the officer wrote in charging documents.

The officer watched the men assemble a fence section about 3 1/2 feet tall and 5 feet long that was thought to be part of the construction of a "pit" to contain dogs during a fight. Once it was completed, it was taken into the wooded area.

When two animal control officers called to the scene drove past the home, the officer in the woods heard a woman yell "Cops!" and men began running around the property, one of them going behind a shed and reaching into his waistband, according to charging documents. Another man ran inside the home with a pit bull.

"I thought we were caught," the officer heard a man say after the animal control officers drove away, according to charging documents.

Search warrant

On Friday, members of the Police Department's Eastern District and Special Operations Section obtained a search warrant and raided the home. They recovered about 35 grams of crack cocaine with a street value of $3,500, $600 in cash and a 9 mm Ruger pistol that was in a hallway closet, police said. They reported finding drug paraphernalia in a bedroom and a digital scale in the living room.

Outside, officers found five pit bulls. The animals were being kept in "deplorable conditions, i.e., no water or food. The ground was bare dirt with no shade. ... The pit bulls were acting extremely aggressive," according to charging documents.

At least one of the dogs had injuries "that can only be consistent with dogfighting," the documents said.

The pit bulls were seized by animal control for observation, police said.

Authorities also found a thick rope attached to a spring, equipment thought to be used to hang dogs from trees to strengthen their jaw muscles; and treadmills caked with paw prints, which are thought to be used for endurance training.

Kevin Jay Green, 44, and Kathleen Marie Bell, 37, were arrested and charged with maintaining a dogfighting operation, cruelty to animals and arranging or conducting dogfights. They also face numerous charges related to drugs police reported finding in the home. They were being held at the Anne Arundel County Detention Center.

John Goodwin, the Humane Society's manager of animal-fighting issues, said law enforcement officials and ordinary civilians have been much more aware of possible signs of dogfighting since Virginia police raided a house and property owned by Vick, who admitted last month that he bankrolled an interstate dogfighting operation and had participated in the killing of pit bulls.

Task forces set up

Police agencies across the country, including Baltimore, are setting up task forces to investigate allegations of animal cruelty. A county sheriff in Georgia offered $10,000 of his own money for information leading to the arrest and conviction of people involved in dogfighting.

"I think most people knew dogfighting was illegal, but it wasn't in the forefront of their minds. It didn't occur to them that this was taking place in their communities," Goodwin said. "Now, when people see someone has three pit bulls on chains in the backyard, they start to get suspicious."

Dogfighting is a felony in 48 states and the District of Columbia, and federal laws also make it a crime. In Maryland, participating in a dogfight is punishable by up to three years in jail and a $5,000 fine. Possessing a fighting dog is a felony that carries a fine of up to $5,000.

Shawkey said he did not know whether others might be charged. Dogfight spectators can be fined up to $1,000 or get as much as 90 days in jail.

A woman listed as one of the home's owners could not be reached for comment.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

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