In a tragic and alarming revelation of how organized and widespread dog fighting is in America, three Northern California residents charged with dog fighting were arraigned in San Joaquin County Superior Court on Friday, April 26, after their charges were refiled by the District Attorney’s office. They were connected by evidence at a raid in Mississippi, called "one of the biggest annual dogfights in the United States."
The trio was originally arrested on April 3 when the sheriff’s departments of Sacramento and Placer counties raided two homes in Tracy, CA, after federal law-enforcement agencies were led there by evidence gathered during a raid in Mississippi on March 31. A fourth suspect was arrested in nearby Carmichael, California.
Kenneth Baldwin, 35, Gracie Baldwin, 36, and Luther Brewer, 49, of Tracy face charges of aiding, permitting and training a fighting dog. Gracie Baldwin is also charged with being a felon in possession of ammunition, and Brewer faces additional charges of being a felon allegedly in possession of a firearm and ammunition.
According to the Associated Press, a months-long investigation by numerous federal, state and local agencies culminated that Saturday night in Benton County in northern Mississippi, with a raid on a barn breaking up what is thought to be one of the biggest annual dogfights in the United States. At least 200 people reportedly were gathered in the barn watching a grueling, active dog fight in progress.
Chris Schindler, manager of animal fighting investigations for the Humane Society,said he wasn’t sure why the fight drew such a big crowd but sometimes fight attendance has to do with an especially well known figure--human or canine--participating in the event.
Of the 20 dogs seized from the premises, two had injuries consistent with having been recently fought, and many of the others showed signs of being fought previously.
“One dog is far worse off than the other dog,” Schindler said. “Unfortunately in dog fighting, these dogs suffer a great deal of trauma, blood loss, shock.” It’s too soon to tell whether the seriously injured dog will survive, he said.
The investigation was a joint effort of the Humane Society, Marshall County Sheriff’s Office, Benton County Sheriff’s Office, and the Mississippi Bureau of Investigations.
Suspected dog fighters from around the country were tracked on their way to the match. Forty arrests were made, and authorities searched for suspects who fled into nearby fields during the raid.
According to the Memphis Commercial Appeal, the raid ended in gunfire, but no one was shot.
Trailers were brought in by the law-enforcement agencies and dozens of automobiles left behind by the fleeing attendees were transported from the location and impounded.
Investigators also confiscated dog fighting paraphernalia, including treadmills and drugs typically used on animals during dog fighting, and an unspecified amount of cash from the premises.
Dog fighting is made lucrative by the related, often high-stakes, gambling and drug and firearms sales that accompany the events, plus the high stud fees and income from breeding and sale of pups of the winning dogs. Both male and female dogs, usually Pit Bulls, are fought.
MISSISSIPPI DOG FIGHTING OPERATION LEADS AUTHORITIES TO CALIFORNIA
Evidence from the investigation at the Benton County raid led federal law-enforcement to a Carmichael, California, man, James Leiva, suspected of being connected with the Mississippi dog fighting operation.
Leiva, 60, was arrested on April 3, after a search warrant was served at his home in the 6000 block of Holeton Road in Carmichael, located in Northern California, said Sacramento County Sheriff's Department spokesman Sgt. Jason Ramos. Four dogs believed to be used in dog fighting also were taken from his residence.
Leiva was booked into Sacramento County Jail on suspicion of possession of fighting dogs, possession of a controlled substances for sale and unlawful possession of ammunition by a person prohibited from possessing ammunition or firearms.
Ramos said the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department, assisted by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and other agencies, then went to the properties in the Tracy area in San Joaquin County, which were thought to be involved in dog fighting activities and also connected to the Mississippi operation.
Warrants in Tracy were served at 2386 Lighthouse Circle and 2105 Elsie Way, Ramos said. These are the locations where Kenneth Baldwin, Gracie Baldwin, and Luther Brewer were arrested. Alleged offenses included possession of fighting dogs, child endangerment and possession of marijuana for sale.
Kenneth Baldwin was allegedly able to escape from the Mississippi raid, which led investigators to Tracy. During the search of the homes, officers seized 14 Pit Bulls that are believed to be used for fighting and more than 26 pounds of marijuana.
Kenneth Baldwin, 35, Gracie Baldwin, 36, and Luther Brewer, 49, now face charges of aiding, permitting and training a fighting dog. Gracie Baldwin is also charged with being a felon in possession of ammunition, and Brewer faces additional charges of being a felon allegedly in possession of a firearm and ammunition.
Kenneth Baldwin and Gracie Baldwin, husband and wife, face additional charges of being present at dogfights, cultivating marijuana and possession of hash oil.
TRACY SUSPECTS ARRAIGNED TWICE AFTER CHARGES REFILED
The hearing on Friday at the San Joaquin Superior Court was the second time the defendants had been arraigned on the same charges.
On Wednesday, April 24, all of their charges had to be dropped, because Deputy District Attorney Robert Baysinger told the court he was not prepared for the scheduled preliminary hearing that day. Since time was not waived by the defense, Baysinger had to refile the charges on Friday.
During the arraignment, Judge Ron Northup approved a bail reduction for both Baldwins from $500,000 to $50,000, after denying a request to release them on their own recognizance.
Northup also ordered the defendants to not possess a dog through the conclusion of the case, and he scheduled a further arraignment hearing for 1:30 p.m. on May 16. The Baldwins have remained in San Joaquin County Jail in French Camp since their arrest. Brewer remains out of custody having posted bail for $300,000 prior to the preliminary.
REPORT DOG FIGHTING
Humane Society officials stressed that participating in animal fighting is a felony under federal law. All 50 states now have felony dog fighting laws. Under California law, it is a felony to own, possess, keep or train any dog for the purpose of fighting, to stage a dogfight, host a dogfight on your property, or to be a spectator at a dogfight.
Anyone suspecting dog fighting taking place in their community or dogs being trained to fight should immediately report it to law enforcement Animal fighting brings a criminal element into unsuspecting neighborhoods and endangers innocent children and other residents. Up to a $5,00 reward is offered by HSUS for information leading to the arrest and conviction of any person involved in illegal animal fighting. Call 877-TIP-HSUS (877-847-4787). Tipsters' identities are protected.