Continues to thumb nose at the court
TACOMA, Washington––Elmer James Givens Jr., 41, perhaps the most publicized alleged dogfighter since former football player Michael Vick was busted in April 2007, and one of the most aggressively self-publicized of the social media era, became at last a convicted dogfighter on May 5, 2023.
Sort of. Facing one count of animal fighting, 58 counts of first-degree animal cruelty, and 16 counts of second-degree animal cruelty, Givens pleaded guilty to just 10 cruelty counts.
Rejecting Givens’ appeal for a sentence of only six months in prison, Pierce County Superior Court judge TaTeasha Davis sentenced Givens to 10 months in custody plus two years on probation, and banned Givens for life from owning, possessing, or residing with any animals.
Judge: “I do not believe six months is sufficient.”
“Reaching a sentence that is sufficient enough to reach the desired effect and impress upon you the seriousness of your crime,” Judge Davis said, “I do not believe six months is sufficient.”
But 60 years might not be sufficient, in view of Givens’ continuing defiance of court orders.
“Dogfighter Elmer Givens Jr.’s case epitomizes the ridiculousness of dogfighting cases in some states,” opined the anti-dogfighting web site This Advocacy in March 2021.
That was before the case took many more ridiculous turns.
“Six pit bulls looking starved & cold”
Givens’ conviction came almost three and a half years after Pierce County Animal Control was on November 14, 2019 “first called to Givens’ property,” according to THIS Is Advocacy, summarizing KOMO News reports, “after receiving a complaint about six pit bulls looking starved and cold.”
According to a Pierce County sheriff’s department media release, “Animal control officers got a tip about the dogs’ welfare. The owner [Givens] showed them six dogs when the officers asked. The animals were allegedly afraid of him, malnourished, injured, and had scars.”
“Police returned a month later,” on December 18, 2019, “and found 48 more dogs, almost all of whom ‘had scarring on their faces and hind legs, indicative that they were fighting dogs,’” THIS Is Advocacy continued, again summarizing KOMO News coverage.
“Told he could only have five dogs”
“Givens was arrested and told he could only have five dogs,” THIS Is Advocacy said.
But that order was not enforced. Givens in an August 7, 2020 YouTube video not only described possession of many more than five dogs, but also extensively described his alleged fighting pit bull breeding operation.
Givens proved particularly hard to bring to justice in part because, while animal fighting paraphernalia is legally considered contraband, and may be seized with a search warrant, fighting animals are not contraband. Possession of fighting dogs or gamecocks becomes a criminal act only if the owner is convicted of using them to fight.
This is a particularly broad legal loophole in the case of pit bulls. No matter how scarred from fighting a pit bull may be, the owner may successfully contend that the pit bulls were “rescued” and that any fresh scars resulted from rough “play” with other pit bulls on the premises.
Possession of drugs and syringes used to treat fighting dogs, “break sticks,” treadmills, and other equipment used to train dogs for fighting are also common among “rescuers.”
At least 20 self-proclaimed pit bull rescuers around the U.S. were busted for mass neglect of pit bulls in the just the first four months of 2022. Most either had nonprofit status or affiliations as foster care-givers with organizations that are nonprofit.
Impounded pit bulls now usually returned to owner
Absent strong evidence that pit bulls have been used in organized fighting, or that they have attacked and injured someone, or have been criminally neglected, impounded pit bulls are now usually returned to the owner, contrary to pre-Michael Vick practice, when pit bulls impounded in either fighting cases or for dangerous behavior were almost always euthanized.
Human fatalities from pit bull attacks have tripled since then; nonfatal injuries by pit bulls are up tenfold.
“Locked in crates with their own waste”
Eight days after the 49 pit bulls were impounded from Givens in December 2019, he petitioned the Pierce County court to have “multiple pit bull terriers” returned.
If Givens had taken normal care of his pit bulls and his premises, he might have gotten them all back. But Givens’ dog care flunked legal standards.
“Dozens [of pit bulls] were in a garage, locked in crates with their own waste,” said a Pierce County Sheriff’s Department media release.
“Investigators also found materials related to dog fighting and breeding,” the Pierce County sheriff’s department media release continued.
Specifically, Associated Press summarized, Pierce County sheriff’s department investigators found “medications, syringes, first aid supplies, and training tools.”
Twelve pit bulls “went to a veterinarian for treatment,” while 37 were held at the Tacoma-Pierce County Humane Society, the Pierce County sheriff’s department media release added.
Taxpayers left holding the bag, and the pit bulls
A Lady Freethinker petition on behalf of the pit bulls reportedly collected more than 25,500 signatures before a Pierce County judge ruled on January 16, 2020 that the pit bulls would not be returned to Givens.
That left Pierce County taxpayers and the Tacoma-Pierce County Humane Society paying the costs of providing veterinary care and upkeep for the pit bulls indefinitely, as the initial case against Givens was repeatedly delayed for two years by the COVID-19 lockdown.
Givens himself was “arrested but couldn’t be held because of COVID,” This Advocacy recounted.
Busted by Facebook & a drone
The case became bigger, and further complicated, THIS Is Advocacy continued, when “In March 2021, someone reported Givens for promoting his dogs on Facebook. Thanks to a neighbor with a drone, police returned to the property to rescue 36 more dogs.
“Givens flat out told police he’d have more dogs the next day,” This Advocacy mentioned. “When police asked how many, he replied something to the effect of “However many I want to. I’m not afraid of jail. I’ve been to jail, and as long as you ain’t charged me and convicted me, I’m gonna do whatever I want.”
Continued posting videos
Affirmed Seattle Fox 13, “Givens Jr., the man accused of operating a dog-fighting ring out of his Tacoma home, was ordered on March 4, 2021 to not ‘possess, board, breed or promote breeding of any dogs.’ It was a condition of his $150,000 bail.
“But prosecutors say Givens has not complied,” Fox 13 continued, citing two social media posts on March 12, 2021 and March 18, 2021, and a web site advertising dogs for sale that was still active as of March 29, 2021,” under the name Buck City Kennels.
“Buck City Kennels Caution”
Buck City Kennels, however, does not appear to have a good reputation among “dog men.”
On the “Game Dog American Pit Bull Forum,” for example, someone using the screen name “WhatsUpCuz” on August 8, 2020 posted under the heading “Buck City Kennels Caution” that “This piece of trash is a straight up peddler with terrible dogs that do not perform. He lies about his dogs and scams people out of their money. He is a wannabe chico [lopez] or tom garner or american gamedog kennels. I AM DOING YOU ALL A FAVOR and cautioning you. He is a snitch peddler with low tier cold dogs. Dont waste your money or time like i did.”
Ignored court orders
“One of the [Buck City Kennels] posts declared a “minor setback for a major comeback,” Fox 13 said, “with a photo of a dog, while the other was a photo of dogs that appeared to be in Givens’ basement.
“Givens also discussed owning dogs in several phone calls he made from jail, court documents state. He told friends he was planning to ‘set up somewhere else’ when he was out,” Fox 13 summarized.
“Prosecutors say Givens’ decision to “repeatedly violate” the court order is “consistent with his actions of previously ignoring court orders pertaining to the ownership and possession of dogs.”
Still posting promotional videos
The judge at that time declined to increase Givens’ bail, but added the following conditions to his release, Fox 13 reported:
“The Defendant is not to use any social media, website, or any other source for the promotion or breeding of dogs. Current social media sites or websites are to be taken down immediately.”
The judge also released 23 of Givens’ impounded pit bulls for adoption. Thirty-six of Givens’ impounded pit bulls had already been released for adoption in November 2020.
By the time Givens was finally convicted and sentenced, 107 pit bulls had been impounded from him in at least three separate raids.
And as of May 7, 2023, more than 48 hours after Givens’ plea-bargained conviction, Givens was still advertising the imminent release of seven new videos promoting his pit bulls.
Graves County, Kentucky
A similar situation may be developing in Graves County, Kentucky, where Sheriff Jon Hayden on April 3, 2023 announced that his office, “For the second time in five months was alerted to an issue with animal neglect and vicious dogs at a residence on Kentucky Highway 1124 on the Graves/Calloway County Line.”
The case began, Hayden said, after “A complaint was received concerning a pack of dogs entering onto private property of another in the area. Numerous dogs acted aggressive towards some children walking in a wooded area of land belonging to their grandmother. It was suspected that the dogs belonged to a couple who had been arrested for animal cruelty last October.
“When a sheriff’s deputy arrived at the suspects residence, he was met by approximately ten dogs who were obviously malnourished and acting aggressive.
Dead dogs in a burning barrel
“No one would come to or answer the door of the residence,” Hayden continued. “Deputies obtained a court order to seize the animals, from both outside and inside the home. Once making entry into the home, they found one of the suspects (Charles A. Rodgers) inside hiding from deputies. They had just spoken to him by phone, but he denied being at the home.
“Dead dog remains were also found in a burning barrel in the back yard that the suspect stated had died from parvovirus.
“This afternoon,” Hayden said, “Charles A. Rodgers, age 59, was arrested again and charged with violation of his bond conditions,” plus 12 counts of second degree animal cruelty.