Court cases reveal Philly's weak history of punishing dogfighters.
“I don’t expect it’s going to get any better now,” said Bengal.
It seems like a worthwhile time to explore how we, as a city, prosecute our dogfighters, because too often, we haven’t really been punishing them at all.
During a November 2007 trial, humane officer Leonard Knox, provided a glimpse into Philadelphia’s then-growing dogfighting scene. On a cold February night, two months before police raided Vick’s Virginia estate, 34-year-old Barry White stepped out of his Kensington row house with blood all over his hands, pants and boots. Police driving by spotted him and called the PSPCA after finding some beat-up pit bulls in a green van parked out front. Opening the blood splattered basement door, Knox heard barking and smelled urine. At the bottom of the stairs he found a rickety pen holding two hungry-looking pit bulls with old fighting scars. Near the pen, was an animal scale, the kind where dogs are hooked into a harness so they hang off the ground. There was another kennel with two more dogs. One had urine burns on his hip from sitting on soiled paper, “like an elderly person who gets a bed sore,” Knox would later testify. On the floor, were drug vials filled with medicines to keep the dogs alive to fight and a stack of two-inch collars with heavy-weights attached for strengthening.
In the backyard, was a plastic kennel with red drapes. The black pit bull inside had still-bleeding bite wounds to his face. His ears were chewed nearly in half. Knox found the fighting pit in the dining room of a property across the alley, which was also rented by White. The walls of the room had been painted black. Plywood boards marked off the ring. Blood stained the carpet and a stop-watch hung from a nail. Nearby, there was a cage with a bloody T-shirt on top of it. Somebody had cropped this dog’s ears off, so opponents couldn’t grab onto them during a fight.
The case gained some media attention. White pled guilty to animal cruelty charges and was sentenced to six to 23 months in prison. And that unfortunately appears to be about the harshest sentence Philadelphia judges are willing to hand out for dogfighting.
Just as its grown in popularity across the country, Philadelphia dogfighting has evolved into a money-making, brutality industry that criminals put time and effort into—yet they basically go unpunished when they’re caught.
Take Marcus Miller, for example.
According to Bengal of the PSPCA, 34-year-old Miller was a “major player” on the local dogfighting scene when in October 2007 police discovered a dogtraining facility he operated out of a warehouse along Adams Avenue. Inside, authorities found a bloodied fight ring; a treadmill and water tank with chains to fasten dogs so they could build stamina, a “rape stand” used to force breed dogs; a “break stick” to pry apart dogs that clamped their teeth into one another, and syringes and drugs to medicate dogs too inured to fight. The 18 pit bulls all bore scars or fresh wounds; one had a long gash along its spine that had been sutured with a staple gun.
Miller promptly posted $10,000 bail and six months later cops found 15 battered pit bulls in a lot outside his Kensington house. This time PSPCA officials found a stash of dogfighting “breeder certificates”—underground documents detailing each dog’s breeding-history, pedigree and even their “sanctioned” fight record. Bengal said some of Miller’s dogs were worth $10,000 on the street.
In February, Miller pled guilty to animal fighting and received three to 23 months of house arrest—a sentence that allowed him to work a job. On a recent afternoon, some kids ran leashed pit bulls in a lot near the house where Miller was last arrested. Some tough looking guys hanging on Miller’s stoop shook their heads repeating, “no”, when asked if Miller was around to talk.
This story repeats all over Philadelphia.
There’s 27-year-old Louis Valentine who last February had 20 pit bulls in his Stella Street basement and who’s dogfighting sentence was tucked into his drug case, so that he never did any time for abusing dogs.
There’s 46-year-old James Hines who faced 29 counts of animal cruelty for selling fighting pit bulls infected with parasites and covered in feces and who’s case was dismissed over a minor paperwork error.
These light sentences beg a question: Is dogfighting just an accepted part of Philadelphia culture? Something we’re policing because we’re supposed to, but not because our hearts are in it? In April 2000, there was an infamous dogfight raid on a Norris Street auto repair shop. Eighty dogfighters dove out of windows and scampered over rooftops. Two of them were Philadelphia cops.
The cops got fired, but true to Philadelphia form, the organizer of the fight only got one to two years of prison work-release.
Back in Courtroom 904, the defense attorney finally arrived. He quickly asked Judge Roger F. Gordon for a postponement, saying he needed more time to prepare.
Gordon scanned the court, taking notice of Paul’s witnesses.
“These people have been waiting all day to have their case heard,” said the Judge. “We’ll hear the case.”
Hearing this, the defense attorney said, “May I talk to the prosecutor?”
The only way Vick can begin to make up for his heinous crimes is by dedicating a generous portion of his salary to animal welfare organizations here. After that, shut up and go win us a Super Bowl.
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PW's Summer Guide 2014