A Dog In the Fight: Baltimore's enforcement of animal-cruelty laws is getting some bite

City Paper

Last March, the door of a vacant house at 6203 York Road in Baltimore was forced open by police to reveal a scene of prolonged horror. The broad contours of what happened were pieced together by authorities after someone reported that a live animal was trapped inside the house in Cedarcroft, a nice neighborhood on the city’s northern boundary.

Baltimore City animal enforcement officer (AEO) Megan Zeiler looked through a window in the house and saw a dead dog. She called the police for help, and when they entered, they found the home “covered in animal waste,” while the “extremely emaciated” dead dog’s “face appeared to have been eaten by another animal,” court records explain. While Zeiler examined the dog, named Rudy, a “live emaciated cat” named Lola “came down the steps” of the house, “covered in dried blood, presumably from consuming dead animal.” Zeiler “found a dead cat” on the third floor that “also appeared to have been eaten.”

Zeiler talked with a neighbor, who explained he had not seen the home’s owner since January. Thus, it appeared that Rudy, Lola, and the other cat had been locked in the house, left to their own devices, for about two months. Only Lola made it out alive, apparently by eating the others. The dead cat’s cause of death is “unknown because most of the body was missing,” court records state, while Rudy “suffered terribly with evidence of severe neglect and lack of veterinary care,” along with “extended malnutrition/starvation.”

After a bit of detective work, someone was held to account: the vacant home’s owner, 33-year-old Patrick Kenji Ito. Charged on July 17 with 31 counts of various forms of animal cruelty, he was arrested a week later and released pending trial on his own recognizance. At his Oct. 7 court appearance, prosecutors declined to press all charges but one count of aggravated animal cruelty. Ito pleaded not guilty and was given two years of supervised probation before judgment and ordered to pay $264 in restitution to the nonprofit Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter (BARCS), where Lola was treated.

Ito, the chef and co-owner of Hampden’s McCabe’s Restaurant, has not yet paid restitution to BARCS. (BARCS has filed a court lien against him for the amount owed, which they do whenever defendants fail to pay the ordered restitution).

In a Facebook message responding to City Paper’s inquiries, Ito explains that the York Road house had gone into foreclosure and he had moved out, and “there clearly had been quite a few people in and out of the property” after that, and then “out of nowhere I got arrested for animal cruelty charges.” The dead dog, he claims, “was not my dog” though the authorities “thought it was. I just took the offer of probation so there was no possibility of me doing jail time for these ridiculous charges.” He adds that “this has been quite an ordeal and I just really don’t want to be pictured as this animal killer after all this.” In a follow-up phone conversation, Ito adds that “my dog Rudy is still alive.”

The case against Ito is one of 28 criminal matters City Paper reviewed in order to get a grasp of how people in Baltimore are getting caught and penalized for abusing animals. Detailed in sworn statements contained in the court files, they run the gamut from a man who left a dog locked in a hot car, to a woman who threw a kitten against a wall, to dogfighting.

The 28 cases show that animal abuse is a big tent of bad conduct by all sorts of regular citizens, not just violent drug dealers driven by greed and bloodlust to hold high-dollar dogfighting events, as in a massive dogfighting indictment filed in December. They also show that law enforcers are going after all manner of animal abuse, and taking the crimes seriously.

 

As recently as April 2013, the city’s animal-abuse enforcement effort was lambasted in a report of the Mayor’s Anti-Animal Abuse Advisory Commission (MAAAC), which City Hall tried to suppress. The report found “many law enforcement officials in Baltimore continue to treat animal abuse as a minor property crime,” yet predicted that “2013 promises to be a better year.”

If 2013 brought improvements on the abuse-fighting front, 2014 appears to have brought even more. City Paper asked to interview police and prosecutors about their efforts to combat animal abuse, and Tammy Brown, spokeswoman for the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office, said only “we work very closely with Animal Control to investigate and prosecute animal cruelty cases when they are merited,” though her office did provide defendants’ names and court-case numbers for some of its 2014 prosecutions.

A request to interview Sharon Miller, director of Baltimore City’s Office of Animal Control, about her encounters with animal abuse in the field, and how enforcement has changed or improved over time, was met with a prepared statement.

Each year, Animal Control’s statement says, it receives “approximately 5,000 calls [that] are classified as Animal In Danger,” such as “dogs inhumanely chained in rear yard, injured animals, animals that appear malnourished, etc.” The “office responds and investigates each call” and also “works closely with” police and prosecutors “in investigating suspected cases of neglect and abuse,” a “collaborative relationship” that “has led to an aggressive investigative approach which has resulted in an increase in felony arrests and prosecutions.” That last point is backed up by the number of animal-abuse arrests processed at Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Center (BCBIC), which went from 17 in 2013 to 24 in 2014.

BARCS’ Executive Director Jennifer Brause says “animal abuse is taken more seriously now,” with “more enforcement, deeper investigations, and more prosecutions, and it makes you feel good because something is being done about it.” Greater enforcement spawns more citizen reports of abuse, she adds, because “now they know something is going to be done about it.”

Not among those 2014 arrests, though, were the 22 people indicted for a massive dogfighting conspiracy in December 2014—a case that is perhaps the best gauge of how seriously Baltimore law enforcers now take animal abuse.

Hundreds of dogs and huge hauls of dogfighting paraphernalia, along with guns, drugs, and cash, have been recovered as a result of the dogfighting investigation. The case is overseen not by line prosecutors, but by the elite Major Investigations Unit (MIU) of the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office, an outfit best known for prosecuting gangs and handling complex wiretap investigations.

As then-State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein pointed out when he announced the indictment, “there is a strong connection between those individuals who would subject animals to horrific treatment and abuse and those engaged in the drug trade and acts of violence.” The indictment, he continued, “hopefully will protect innocent and vulnerable animals from further abuse and reduce violent criminal activity.”

The cases City Paper reviewed also show this connection, but not always. Ito, for instance, has not otherwise faced criminal charges in Maryland, and neither have many of the other defendants. The 28 cases, though, have at least one thing in common: victims. All told, 74 dogs and five cats suffered, whether or not the perpetrator suffered consequences.

Those defendants deemed guilty, says retired city animal-abuse investigator Eric Banks, “should be kept from ever owning another animal, another pet,” he says, adding, “if you’ll abuse a dog, a pet, you’ll abuse a child. It’s the same mindset.” While the law doesn’t allow this, the effort to seek justice on abused pets’ behalf shows the city does indeed have a dog in the anti-abuse fight, and it has some teeth.

 

Tavon Sol was 8 years old in 1999 when since-retired Baltimore Sun features writer Carl Schoettler profiled him and his father, Tyrone Sol, in a boxing story. Tavon, “looking like a chunky spaceman in his protective headgear and midriff guard, whacks away at his dad with more enthusiasm than skill,” Schoettler wrote. “But he’s learning.”

The son apparently learned more than boxing from his dad. Fast-forward to 2011, when both were charged for guns and drugs. Eventually, prosecutors declined to pursue most of the charges, but Tavon Sol pleaded guilty to drug possession and was put on six months of probation, while 56-year-old Tyrone Sol, an already-convicted drug dealer and burglar, pleaded guilty to animal cruelty and was given a two-month sentence in October 2013.

A month after his father was sentenced, Tavon Sol rolled up to his home at 545 N. Fulton Ave. to find the police raiding the place. After advising him of his rights, the officers took his statement: “he had three guns and marijuana in his basement bedroom” and “all the pit bulls at the location was [sic] owned by him,” whether “dead or alive.”

In the house, in addition to guns, drugs, cash, and “various dog fighting paraphernalia,” were seven pit bulls in the basement, three pit bulls “chained to the rear fence line outside,” and a “deceased pit bull in a cage on the rear deck outside the kitchen door.”

Come Jan. 19, the only remaining charges remaining against Sol involved the guns and drugs, as prosecutors dropped the 12 animal-cruelty and dogfighting-related charges against him. Those, it turns out, were rolled into the MIU’s dogfighting-conspiracy case.

The indictment describes in greater detail the fruits of the November 2013 raid on Sol’s house: In addition to the 11 dogs, there were “materials, devices, and instruments used to facilitate the breeding, training, and fighting of dogs (e.g., a treadmill, conditioning harnesses, breaking sticks, wound treatment, dietary supplements, etc.),” and “one of the pitbull puppies was deceased due to starvation.”

Thus, Sol is no longer on the hook for just the animal-abuse crimes apparent in the November 2013 raid on his house, but of the crimes of the whole 22-member conspiracy, which is alleged to have spanned from April 2013 to when it was indicted in December. The grand jury claims he’s part of what the indictment calls “a closely-knit clandestine community” that used “disturbing conditioning methods designed to make dogs more aggressive, vicious, and lethal.” This was done to “increase the chances of prevailing in dogfights—and to maximize the corresponding profits from gambling on matches,” where “the total purse” can be “$100,000 and higher, with individual cash bets of $25,000,” or “even greater at larger events.”

Of the 22 defendants, eight have prior convictions for violence, five for handguns, two for sex offenses, and one for murder. Earlier in 2014, some of Sol’s co-defendants, including the father-and-son team of William Murray Jr. and William Murray III and Tyrone Wolfe, already had already appeared in court documents for suspicions of dogfighting, as had a man, William Paige, who’s mentioned though not charged in the MIU indictment.

Animal-abuse arrests processed at Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Center (BCBIC) went from 17 in 2013 to 24 in 2014. (WMAR)

 

As Baltimore Police Department (BPD) officers were preparing to raid Murray III’s home at 2801 Oswego Ave. in Park Heights in April 2014, the 27-year-old emerged from the house, got into a white Ford Crown Victoria, and drove off. The officers stopped and arrested him for not having a valid driver’s license. Thus, Murray III wasn’t present for the raid on his house, but his girlfriend, Victoria Burnham, and an infant were.

The raid turned up drugs, a gun, and “5 pit bull type dogs within cages” in the basement. One of the dogs “was severely injured” and the other four “were injured with scarring and swelling,” while one was wearing a “weighted collar.” Among the wide array of dogfighting paraphernalia found were a “weight pulling harness,” a “weight pulling sled,” a “scale used for weigh in for dog fight,” and “conditioning videos.”

The police then went to the Murrays’ used-car dealership, around the corner at 4026 Reisterstown Road, where 48-year-old Murray Jr. was there to let them in. More dogfighting paraphernalia was recovered, including veterinary-care medicine, dietary supplements, and “various animal fighting documents.”

Burnham and Murray III were arrested and charged for drug- and dogfighting-related offenses, and Murray Jr., who was entrusted with the infant, was not arrested. The case against Burnham dwindled to a minor pot charge. Murray III’s case continued until Jan. 15, when prosecutors declined to pursue the charges, which by then had been rolled into MIU’s dogfighting indictment.

Then, on Jan. 12, Murray Jr. and his wife, Barbara Murray, were also indicted in Baltimore County in a separate dogfighting conspiracy, which also includes animal-cruelty counts for failing to provide “proper drink” to several horses. Murray Jr., who owns the Southwest Baltimore arabber stables on Carlton Street that were raided on Jan. 13 over concerns about the care provided to the horses there, also faces numerous firearms-related counts in the Baltimore County conspiracy, including for possessing guns when he’s prohibited from doing so given his prior felony record.

Wolfe, meanwhile, made a blip on the anti-dogfighting enforcers’ radar on June 18, 2014, when animal-control director Miller and BPD officers came to his house at 3922 W. Garrison Ave. with a warrant to check on “the health and welfare and licensing” of animals there. Once inside, they found 41-year-old Wolfe, Ebony Goins, and three children.

“We smoke weed, and that’s it,” Wolfe told the officers, adding “there is an old gun in the basement.” Also in the basement, Miller observed, were “a make shift box with carpet on the floor which had blood stains,” while three pit bulls were in the backyard, one of which had “bite wounds/scarring” and another had “a long split of the tongue.” A “weight pulling harness” and a “treadmill” were also found, “an indication of conditioning a dog for a fight.”

The charges against Wolfe, who was previously convicted of assault with intent to murder and handgun violations, remain pending in Baltimore City Circuit Court.

Paige can count himself lucky not to be charged in MIU’s case, since his name appears in the indictment, along with the circumstances found at the 58-year-old’s house in January 2014. That’s when, similar to what happened to Wolfe, Baltimore authorities came knocking at his Sandtown-Winchester house at 1118 N. Carrollton Ave. with a warrant to check on the welfare of animals there.

In addition to guns and drugs, six pit bulls were found in the backyard, “housed in 50 gallon plastic drum barrels” and “chained with heavy chains” in frigid, 14-degree weather. Several bore scars “on the face, chest, and legs,” suggesting they “have been fought.” In October 2014, the Sandtown-Winchester resident was sentenced to three years in prison for having fight-trained dogs and five years for being a felon in possession of a firearm, in light of his 1985 attempted-murder conviction. Thus, Paige’s penalties had already been meted out before the indictment came down.

 

While the dogfighting scene appears to be populated with nefarious characters with shady backgrounds and criminal proclivities, numerous people with clean or nearly pristine criminal backgrounds have been snared for animal abuse in Baltimore. At times, their culpability was established after they engaged Baltimore’s animal-welfare apparatus upon their pet’s sickness or death.

Take 47-year-old Northeast Baltimore resident Tonya McCoy. In January 2014, she surrendered the body of her dead brown-and-white pit bull to BARCS. An employee there was “concerned about the condition” of the dog, and so contacted an AEO, who inspected the dog and found it “emaciated and dehydrated.”

When interviewed, McCoy explained that the dog “became sick two weeks ago,” and took it to the vet, but “the line was too long and the dog died before making it to the shelter, about 30-40 minutes earlier.” But the dog “was cold to the touch,” its left side “had begun to flatten” as if it “had been on its side for an extended period, . . . yellow liquid was draining from the dog’s nose and mouth,” and its body temperature “did not register on the thermometer.”

A necropsy concluded the dog “suffered from serious neglect” and “lack of proper nutrition” for “weeks/months.” It had an inflamed abdominal wall, a “very painful condition” that would have rendered it “visibly sick and in pain.” McCoy was found guilty of one count of animal cruelty, for which she received one year of unsupervised probation before judgment.

Andrea Eaton, a 48-year-old Northeast Baltimore resident, adopted a dog named Sput Lee from BARCS in January 2013, but it was in poor condition when her brother brought the dog back to BARCS in February 2014. Eaton admitted she “never found out why the dog was losing weight and did nothing more until the time of surrender” by her brother. Under BARCS care, the dog regained weight, adding 13 pounds in six days. Eaton was given 18 months of supervised probation and ordered to pay $496.55 in restitution to BARCS, which she has not yet paid. 

The case of 33-year-old Torrelee Lane, who called the Maryland Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MDSPCA) in June 2014 to say “her dog had been hit by a car about two months ago” and was “chewing at the foot,” shows the lengths to which animal-welfare investigators sometimes have to go.

After prompting from MDSPCA, Lane arrived there hours later with the dog, identified as “T.K.,” whose foot was wrapped up with a towel, electrical tape, and a plastic bag. Amputation was required, because  T.K.’s “entire foot and part of the bone was missing,” and that the dog had “severed” bones. 

Lane had mentioned she had other dogs, so an extensive probe ensued, overcoming Lane’s efforts to thwart it. Ultimately, authorities came to her home with a warrant and found three pit bulls, including a “thin and unresponsive” puppy that had parvovirus, a highly contagious and life-threatening disease. All three were euthanized. Lane was put on one year of supervised probation, and had to pay $57.50 in court costs.

In other cases, people called authorities to have their unwanted, sick dogs picked up, and AEOs responded to discover neglected animals. One of them, 40-year-old Ellwood Park resident Gregory Williams, told an AEO his Rottweiler, who was “extremely emaciated,” had “eaten a rat” and “had been in the same condition for about a month.” Turned out, the dog had a condition requiring a special diet, and gained seven pounds with proper care. Williams got one year of supervised probation for animal cruelty and was ordered to pay $294 in restitution to BARCS, which he has yet to pay.

Another man, 44-year-old West Baltimore resident Louis Raymond Jefferson, called to have Animal Control pick up his Rottweiler, Bo, and the responding AEOs found “a very thin” dog “lying on a urine soaked sheet” in 28-degree weather. Jefferson said Bo “had been sick for about a month” without “any veterinary care.” BARCS found Bo to be “in horrible condition, emaciated, dirty, unable to walk, with pressure sores, and extremely swollen/enlarged joints,” and after the dog was euthanized, it was determined that Bo was “an old dog with numerous problems such as failing organs and parasitism.” Jefferson got six months of unsupervised probation.

One of the dogs seized in the December bust of a Baltimore-based dogfighting ring (WBAL)

 

Calls from tipsters spawned many of the 2014 animal-abuse cases City Paper reviewed, and responding AEOs turned up some heart-breaking cases of abuse.

A tip about two underweight dogs “left out in the cold” brought AEOs to 934 N. Rosedale St. in West Baltimore in January 2014. They found a pit bull on a short chain lying on a blanket outside of an “igloo dog house” in 4-degree weather, and a white dog “dead on arrival and frozen to the bottom of the doghouse.” A 48-year-old woman, Bridget Jones, “came to the door” and claimed ownership of the dogs. She got a 90-day sentence (with 86 days suspended) and probation for one year, and was ordered to pay $150 in restitution to BARCS, which she hasn’t yet paid. Since the animal-cruelty charges were filed, Jones has been found guilty of theft and, in yet another case, charged with first-degree assault and use of deadly weapon with intent to injure.

In February 2014, BPD officers and AEOs went to 2818 Ellicott Drive in West Baltimore, responding to “an anonymous call that a dog had been abandoned in the rear yard,” which is exactly what they found. Neighbors confirmed that it had been “left outside, tied to a pole in the cold” for “over a month,” and the police noted it “had severe scars on his legs and nose.”

“The owner of the home,” 50-year-old Carolyn Simmons, walked up to the scene, bearing “the strong pungent odor of marijuana on her person.” When told of her impending arrest on animal-cruelty charges and the apparent smell of pot, Simmons announced, “I got some bud in my bra underneath my breast on the left side.” Simmons was given a year of supervised probation and ordered to pay $500 in restitution to BARCS, which she has not yet paid.

In July 2014, AEOs and BPD officers were directed to an apartment in the 3800 block of Rogers Avenue by a tip about a “deceased dog,” and came upon a disturbing scene. In the garage was a live dog that was “being stung by bees which were on a hive near the dog,” which was “tied to a crate without water or food.” Also in the garage was a dead pit bull “still tied to a electric [sic] outlet on the wall” and “already in an accelerated state of decay.” Charges were brought against a man named Maurice White, but prosecutors dropped the case on Jan. 13.

In November 2014, someone called in a complaint for “four dogs being kept in a 4x6 area in the rear of” 4451 Eldone Road, and AEOs arrived to find three dogs “confined in a fenced in area on the patio.” Dante Blake was there, and the 42-year-old explained that the two female dogs “were kept in crates to keep them from fighting” and that they’d fought two weeks earlier, adding that “he felt he could properly treat the injuries” himself “because of his career in the medical field.” All three were “visibly malnourished,” and one of them had “many wounds on her face,” another “had open wounds on her front legs and swollen muzzle,” and the third had “scarring on his legs and a wound on his chin.” Blake got one year of supervised probation and was ordered to pay $57.50 in court costs.

Two cases involving cats resulted from tips—including one that “a cat had been thrown against a wall and was possibly dead” in the Curtis Bay home of 38-year-old Elizabeth Gauthier. When an AEO arrived on July 8, 2014, Gauthier explained her kitten died when it “stopped breathing,” and that “her boyfriend had buried it somewhere outside,” though she didn’t know where. Animal Control director Miller got on the phone with Gauthier, who then admitted she had thrown “the kitten against the wall because the kitten scratched her,” and its body was in a plastic bag in the basement. A necropsy determined a concussion and brain trauma caused the kitten’s death. Gauthier got three years of supervised probation, and was ordered to pay $165 in court costs.

Similarly, in June 2014 someone reported that “a cat had been thrown from a window” at 4322 Reisterstown Road in Park Heights. Responding AEOs met with Philip Hanna, who explained that he’d heard his brother, 50-year-old Steven Hanna, earlier that day exclaim, “throw that mother fucker out the window.” A witness, Montre Jordan, confirmed what had happened and said the cat “almost died,” though it was found on the deck below “in shock but not significantly injured.” Steven Hanna got a 90-day suspended sentence and six months of probation.

A tipster’s call to police—and steps taken prior to their arrival—may have saved a dog’s life on June 30, 2014. Baltimore real-estate investor Thomas Karle Jr. called in the situation: a dog locked “inside a black GMC Denali with the windows up for over three hours” across from Baltimore City Hall. While waiting for the police to arrive, Karle and others noticed the dog “was in serious distress and on the verge of passing out,” so Karle “forcibly pulled the window of the car down and extracted the dog,” who “could barely move and was heavily panting,” so Karle and others “washed him down in water and gave him water to drink.”

When the police arrived, “the dog seemed to be in stable condition,” but “there was no sign of water or food” in the Denali. Its owner, 22-year-old Danael Tesfaye, “then came out to see what was going on,” and said “he did not know you couldn’t leave a dog in the car and admitted he owned the dog for two days.”

The dog went to BARCS, and Tesfaye, who has no prior criminal record, was arrested on four counts of cruelty. He was freed the same day on $50,000 bail. In September, he received six months of unsupervised probation and a $250 fine, and had to pay $57.50 in courts costs. When he failed to pay the fine, a warrant was issued and he was again arrested on Dec. 8, then released on his own recognizance.

 

Perhaps the most compelling animal-abuse case City Paper reviewed was one involving a 13-year-old boy who arrived on July 18 at BPD’s Southwest District station and announced that his mom and stepdad were trying to kill his pit bull. It joins together themes that the MAAAC report pointed out: the correlation of animal abuse with other kinds of violence and abuse.

The boy explained that he’d had an argument with his mother, 34-year-old Lynette Reed, who’d ordered his stepfather, 28-year-old Kevin Harris, to “take that bitch in the woods and kill it,” after which the boy had watched Harris walking his pit bull toward the woods along the 2700 block of Frederick Avenue, announcing that “I’m going to hang him from a tree and kill him!”

The police looked for the dog, but couldn’t find it, so they went to the boy’s home and encountered a “very hostile” Reed, who said of her son: “Get that bitch away from my house! That bitch isn’t coming inside my house! He’s not going to be shit just like his daddy wasn’t shit!”

When officers advised Reed that the youngster could not legally be refused access to the home, Reed threatened him. “If he comes back in here,” she said, “I’m locking him in the basement! He’s not getting any food or water unless I want him to have it. And when I’m ready for him to have something, he’ll only get bread and water. And he’s not getting a bed, he’ll sleep on the basement floor! I’ll show him what it feels like to be on lock down!”

The police tried to explain to Reed the procedures for handling her desire to no longer have her son live in her house, and she yelled back at them: “If you don’t take him, I got something for that! I’m unplugging his box!” Reed proceeded to unplug her son’s home-detention monitor, “in an attempt to violate his probation and get him arrested.”

The boy then asked his mother, “What did you do with my dog?” She yelled back, “I took the bitch in the woods and left him there!” and “I told you if you didn’t get it out of my house, I was gonna kill him!” The police, “not feeling comfortable leaving” the boy with her, sought “proper placement” for him. They then received a citizen’s call that a pit bull was tied to a tree nearby. Upon arriving, they found it “out in the sun” and “tied to a tree using a rope, a cord, and a metal chain” with “no food or water.”

Reed, who like Harris has prior convictions for assault and theft, was arrested on five cruelty counts, but in August prosecutors declined to pursue the charges. A warrant was issued for Harris, who was arrested on Feb. 9 and held without bail pending trial, scheduled for March 10.

Another harrowing domestic scene played out in April, prompting animal-abuse charges, when 32-year-old Andrea Ashe called the police to say she believed her estranged boyfriend, Darryle Langley, had “broken into their home” in Northeast Baltimore and “was still inside.” He “had access to a firearm,” she explained, adding that she was “unsure if he had one with him.” She had “separated from Langley due to being afraid of him,” but “he still had some property inside of the residence.”

When the police entered the house, they found no one there except for “a dark grey Pit Bull standing at the bottom of the steps” in the basement “with its “tail between its legs.” When they approached, the dog “ran to the far corner of the basement, as if to be afraid.” Urine and feces were “scattered around the basement floor,” and there was a “dog crate that appeared rusty with jagged edges” and empty bowls for food and water.

The police tried to talk to Ashe about the dog, but she “seemed to be uninterested” and “would not answer” any questions. So they spoke directly: “Ma’am, that dog in your basement needs your immediate attention. You need to give him food, water, and take him with you when you leave.” Ashe “did not respond,” but “merely walked inside” the house.

Two days later, an officer returned, knocked on the screen door, and “heard the Pit Bull come up the steps from the basement and begin to scratch at the door with its paw while it wimpered [sic].” The officer entered, “believing the dog was in great pain and suffering.” Everything in the basement was it had been during the previous visit, and the dog was in bad shape. The officer “could see its rib cage” and it had “little to no energy,” so Animal Control “responded and took custody” of it.

Ashe and Langley both were charged with animal cruelty, but prosecutors declined to pursue their cases. About 10 days after Langley was arrested on the charges, he was accused of second-degree assault in the city, and later pleaded guilty, receiving a three-year suspended sentence with 18 months of probation. About a week after the assault charges were filed, Frederick County law enforcers accused Langley of heroin distribution, and after pleading guilty he received a 20-year suspended sentence with two years of probation. That case violated his supervised release on a federal felon-in-possession-of-a-firearm conviction, so he was sent back to federal prison for seven months, and is scheduled for release in July.

Evidence on display at a Dec. 22, 2014 Police press conference announcing indictments on a dogfighting ring. (BPD Twitter)

 

While routine animal-abuse cases involving neglected or abused dogs and cats, however disturbing, rarely make headlines, dogfighting, the rock star of animal-abuse crimes, is all but assured media coverage. Aside from MIU’s big case announced in December, consider the case against Johnnie Taylor of Howard Park.

It started in April 2012 as a routine drug probe prompted by suspicions that Taylor’s house “was being used to sell marijuana.” After watching apparent drug transactions, the police arrested two men, including Taylor, who told police that he lived alone at the house, but “he had several dogs inside his house and he was aspiring” to be a pet-shop owner.

As the police later arrived at Taylor’s house to raid it, his girlfriend, Tara Davis, “was standing outside” and told the officers of the dogs. “All but one” of them “were confined to a crate,” she said, and the “loose dog” was a “king corso” named “Midnight,” an “extremely aggressive” dog that “was a direct danger to anyone entering the dwelling.” So the police had Davis “enter the dwelling first,” put Midnight on a leash, and “take the dog directly to her vehicle.” They then went inside.

What they found was a bunch of pot, bullets, and “eight pit-bull dogs scattered throughout the house contained in separate cages,” living in a manner “unsuitable for any living creature.” The dogs were “kept in small cages” and were “standing in their own fecal” matter and “did not have any food or water.” Five of them “were kept in the unlit basement,” and two of them “had clear signs they had been bitten on the face and legs.” Also found was dog-training equipment, dietary supplements, and veterinary supplies, along with “a manual titled ‘Conditioning a Dog for a Fight.’”

The case prompted much media coverage, and Taylor took to YouTube after his arrest to try the case in the court of public opinion. “A lot of people probably seen me recently in the news for this dogfight ring,” he declares on the 11-minute video, “so I figure I get my own camera crew out here and tell the city and the world what’s really going on with Johnnie Taylor.

“Well, let me start off by saying I’ve never fought dogs ever in my life,” he says. “Ever since I was a little boy, I’ve always rescued animals,” and “my house is like an animal sanctuary.” He claims “people know I’m trying to open up a pet store, so why would the police say that I’m fighting dogs” when “all my dogs were healthy and friendly?” He asks viewers, “have you ever heard of a friendly fighting dog?”

Taylor will soon get a chance to defend himself in court, because a pretrial dispute was recently returned from the appellate courts in the prosecution’s favor, and a trial is scheduled to begin on Feb. 23.

In 2014, though, one dogfighting case went unnoticed. It demonstrates how this form of abuse can be a spectator sport on the open streets of Baltimore.

On the afternoon of April 13, the police went to an alley near Homewood Avenue and East 20th Street, just north of Green Mount Cemetery, “for a dog fight in progress,” and when they arrived, they heard “citizens start to yell, ‘Yo the police are coming.’” There were “approximately 20 citizens in the alley, who were spectating this event, but they began to scatter” when the police showed up.

Two men, 36-year-old Edward Dancy and 44-year-old George Jordan Jr., were separating the fighting dogs, a “brown and white pit bull terrier” and a “white bull terrier,” who were “still growling, barking, and displaying their teeth toward each other.”

Dancy, ignoring officers’ calls for him to stop, pulled the pit bull down the street, but was soon detained and hesitantly did as told, to secure the dog by chaining it to a fence. Jordan did the same, chaining the bull terrier to a light pole.

“We wasn’t fighting the dogs, his dog jumped the fence,” Dancy said initially, but then changed his story, claiming “that’s not really what happened officer. We were walking the dogs” and they got too “close to each other and started fighting.” 

Both dogs had injuries, but the bull terrier’s were worse: “punctures and lacerations” to the “face, ears, front legs, rear right leg, and neck.” The pit bull had “bite wounds” on its “face, nose, and front leg.” A responding AEO declared that the scene appeared to be more than what Dancy described, since their injuries “are consistent with that of dog fighting.” The police concluded that the two men “were intentionally and maliciously fighting these dogs” with “blatant disregard for public safety” and “the lives of these animals.”

Dancy and Jordan both were charged with animal cruelty and dogfighting. Jordan, who has a 2005 drug-dealing conviction, pleaded guilty and received an 18-month suspended sentence and one year of unsupervised probation. Prosecutors declined to pursue the charges against Dancy, who has faced numerous minor charges over the years, but has never been convicted.

 

Banks, the retired city investigator who would like to see convicted abusers banned from owning pets, holds dogfighters in particular disdain. “People that fight dogs are displaying antisocial behavior, and they’re dangerous,” he says, adding that “they should be publicized on a website, like the sex-offender registry.”

The zeal is borne of what Banks saw during his days in the anti-abuse business. Now a security professional who has provided services to celebrities in town to film movies, Banks, a fit man with a yen for gold chains, doesn’t come across as prone to emotional displays. Yet, when his memory is jogged about what he saw in Baltimore’s basements and backyards, his emotions run high.

Banks recalls entering the basement of house where “there was a dogfighting ring, broken down, and a bloody carpet, and they had vitamins and steroids and treadmills. They were breeding dogs for fighting.” What really got to Banks, though, was “a bait dog in a cage, and this dog was tore up. Part of his jaw was missing, his tail was gone, his ear was bitten off. He’d fought before, his time was over, and they just used him as a bait dog,” to get fighting dogs riled up.

“The thing about it was,” Banks continues, “this was the friendliest dog you’d ever want to be around. But he was so ugly, so abused. I cried.” 

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