A year-long investigation into a brutal dog-fighting operation in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has resulted in twelve arrests and one suspect still at large, according to Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm.
Ten of the suspects are being charged in federal court for multiple counts involving multi-state activities, while two others face state felony charges. Prosecutors announced that all defendants in the case reside in Milwaukee.
Chisholm said that although investigative efforts focused on the large-scale interstate dog fighting operation centered in Wisconsin, it “has tentacles reaching throughout the country."
The charges range from possessing dogs for the purposes of participating in staged dog fighting or training them for that purpose. Injured and scarred dogs of all ages were found with the various suspects. The federal indictments listed 23 dogs allegedly used or planning to be used for dog-fighting, and one found buried in a shallow grave with fresh wounds and scars from repeated dog fighting.
The charges were brought based on evidence discovered by investigators which included the 23 Pit Bulls, wooden dog fighting rings, break sticks (used to pry the dogs’ jaws open during a fight), digital depictions of dog fights, books and magazines, drugs and veterinary supplies, and an electrical device used to electrocute losers or dogs unwilling to fight.
A task force including Milwaukee police, U.S. Attorney James Santelle, representatives of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) joined Chisholm at the news conference. More than 100 law enforcement officers took part in the operation, Chisholm said
The seized dogs require medical care and will be evaluated, said ASPCA Vice President Tim Rickey.
"Some of the dogs are able to be re-homed with very little concern," he said. "Other animals require a much more intensive rehabilitation process and special types of placements, and others cannot be re-homed at all because it would just not be safe."
Milwaukee has conducted prior dog fighting busts which received media attention as far back as 2007 and, more recently, in 2011. Some of those arrested on Thursday had records of prior arrests. Chisholm stressed that animal abuse and dog fighting may be indicative of other criminal activity, such as child abuse or domestic violence. It also can be a lucrative commercial enterprise for organized crime groups, because it also involves gambling, drugs and gun sales.
Authorities announced they found three guns during the searches Thursday morning.
Court documents name the following suspects on various charges related to animal cruelty and dog fighting:
Gary Richards, 58
Cheryl Richards, 56
Tyrone Lewis, 30
William Walker, 31
Terry Robinson, 35
Alicia Brown, 40
Emmitt Smith, 37
Demetrius Boyce, 45
Travis L. Hazlett, 31
Darry Wortham (no age listed)
Tiana Arnold (no age listed)
Thomas S. Zollicoffer, 24
For anyone wanting to learn more, this 2011 BBC documentary exposes the sordid, atavistic world of dog fighting.