But the association of pit bulls with violent crime is stronger than the association of dogfighting with other crimes against humans
GASTONIA, North Carolina; HAMPTON, Virginia––Alleged dogfighting busts are back in Michael Vick country, 16 years after the April 25, 2007 police raid that brought the Vick dogfighting case to light.
Charges have yet to be filed after the most recent raid on an alleged dogfighting location, a house in Gastonia, North Carolina, but eight felony dogfighting accounts and 33 related misdemeanors are pending against one alleged dogfighter and his wife, a 24-year veteran of the Hampton Sheriff’s Office, in Hampton, Virginia.
The Gastonia and Hampton cases, 300 miles apart, do not appear to be directly related. Both, however, are within a region known for decades as a dogfighting hub.
Humane Society of the U.S. again involved in bust
The 2007 arrest and eventual conviction of former football star Vick, and impoundment of his pit bulls, in the same region, triggered the rapid evolution of the Best Friends Animal Society and the American SPCA into quasi-pit bull advocacy societies.
Largely forgotten is that the Humane Society of the U.S. [HSUS] first took custody of the Vick pit bulls, turning them over to the Best Friends Animal Society and the American SPCA only after Best Friends and the ASPCA whipped up a national furor against the initial HSUS recommendation that the fighting pit bulls be euthanized.
After Best Friends and the ASPCA reaped a public relations and donation bonanza, built around sympathy for the Vick pit bulls, the Humane Society of the U.S. took up pit bull advocacy too.
The Humane Society of the U.S. was again the agency called to impound the pit bulls reportedly found “living in makeshift, hazardous enclosures” in Gastonia, North Carolina on August 2, 2023.
And HSUS wants to make sure we all know it
Further, the Humane Society of the U.S. does not appear to be inclined to let anyone forget about their role this time, having blanketed regional media with news releases and issued an online appeal to donors within 24 hours.
According to the HSUS emailed appeal, “Our Animal Rescue Team was on the ground at the site of an alleged cruelty situation in North Carolina. The case involved dogs living in hazardous conditions, several of whom had significant scarring and horrific past injuries consistent with being forced to fight. Many of the dogs need treatment for medical issues ranging from puncture wounds, to skin conditions and more.”
The HSUS publicity windstorm soon generated headlines including “14 dogs rescued in Gaston County dogfighting ring” from WRAL of Raleigh, Durham, and Fayetteville, North Carolina; “14 dogs rescued from alleged dogfighting ring in Gastonia, advocates say,” from WCNC, of Charlotte, North Carolina; and “Suspected dogfighting ring broken up in Gastonia,” from WJZY of Charlotte.
But screaming headlines & self-congratulation may be premature
But the headlines may have been premature, even if Gaston County police did tell WBTV of Charlotte that the raid was “the result of a more than two-month long investigation into a report of numerous dogs at the location being used for dogfighting.”
A “ring” is by definition, “ 1. An association of people or firms formed to promote a common interest or carry out a business enterprise,” or “2. A loose affiliation of gangsters in control of organized criminal activities.”
Only one person, pit bull owner Henrique Durant, 49, has been identified in connection with the dogs.
While the pit bulls have been impounded, no arrest warrants have been issued. The only complaints mentioned by neighbors to media pertained to chronic barking.
“Dogfighting is illegal & is cruelty to animals!”
“Veterinarians noted the dogs had dental issues, skin conditions, missing hair, puncture wounds and scars consistently seen in dogfighting operations,” reported Caroline Hicks of WBTV.
HSUS claimed that “items related to dogfighting were also found on the property,” but did not specify what they were.
“I don’t dog fight!” Henrique Durant told Hicks. “Dogfighting is illegal and it’s cruelty to animals!”
His pit bulls were injured, Durant said, when “My one female got out the cage and then she went cage-hopping from one to the other, cage-hopping.”
The police, Durant recounted, “told me to get all my rabies shots and all my tags, and I went and got all my rabies shots and tags, and this is what I come home to.
“If I’m dog fighting,” Durant asked, “then how the hell do I have a pit bull living inside with a Yorkie?”
Stronger evidence against cop household
The evidence presented against alleged Hampton dogfighting suspects Michael A. Johnson Sr. and Hampton Sheriff’s Lieutenant Carolyn W. Johnson appears to be considerably stronger.
At the Johnson home in the Phoebus district of Hampton, a 400-year-old neighborhood that was an independent city from 1900 to 1952, “Hampton Animal Control officers seized several items they say are indicative of forced breeding and dogfighting,” reported Peter DuJardin of the Virginian Pilot.
“Investigators confiscated a device referred to as a ‘rape stand’ on a list of seized items, used to ‘harness dogs and force breeding,’ according to documents filed in Hampton Circuit Court,” DuJardin explained.
“Such devices are used to constrain female dogs and keep them from biting or defending themselves against a male dog during breeding,” DuJardin continued.
“Investigators also confiscated a treadmill and multivitamins from the sheds where the dogs were kept,” DuJardin said.
The Johnsons are charged
The Johnsons were found in possession of four adult pit bulls and a litter of four puppies.
Michael A. Johnson Sr., 59, was charged with three felony counts of promoting or being engaged in ‘the fighting of animals for amusement, sport or gain,’” along with 17 related misdemeanor counts, including for alleged dogfighting, cruelty to animals, and neglect of the dogs, DuJardin narrated.
Carolyn W. Johnson, 58, was charged with 16 misdemeanors, “or eight counts apiece of animal cruelty and failing to properly care for the dogs,” DuJardin said.
Carolyn W. Johnson, now on paid administrative leave, “holds a high-ranking post” as executive secretary for the Hampton County Sheriff’s Department, “working closely with Hampton Sheriff Karen Bowden,” DuJardin mentioned, citing an anonymous sheriff’s department source.
“Dogs screaming & whining”
The Johnsons were arrested after “Animal control officer Samantha Denney, and another officer, went to the [Johnson] home on July 24, 2023,” DuJardin recounted, “after a neighbor reported ‘hearing dogs screaming and whining’ behind the house.”
When Michael A. Johnson refused to allow the animal control officers to inspect his yard, they obtained search and seizure warrants from the Hampton magistrate’s office and returned to the scene.
“Denney wrote in one affidavit,” DuJardin said, “that Johnson was similarly uncooperative in 2015, when 10 pit bulls were found in his backyard, several of them ‘with ribs and hip bones protruding.’ But though the affidavit said 20 misdemeanor counts were filed, 10 each of animal cruelty and inadequately caring for a dog, there are no records in Hampton General District Court indicating what became of those charges.”
“Go bust a dogfight”
Of note is that no recreational drugs or contraband associated with anything other than dogfighting was reported to have been found on either the Durant or Johnson premises.
This somewhat contradicts conventional belief about the criminal associations of alleged dogfighters and cockfighters.
Wayne Pacelle, now heading Animal Wellness Action, the Animal Wellness Action Foundation, and the Center for a Humane Economy, was in his fourth year of 14 years as president of the Humane Society of the U.S. when the Michael Vick case broke, as result of an April 20, 2007 drug bust that led police to the Vick home in Surrey, Virginia.
“If law enforcement is worried about crime in the communities, go bust a dogfight or a cockfight. You’ll get the biggest catch you can find anywhere,” Pacelle told ANIMALS 24-7 on July 23, 2023.
Dogfighting & drug busts
Superficially, that appears to be true. In alleged dogfighting cases coming before the courts earlier in 2023, Mason Wilson, 35, and Tarra Jackson, 29, both of Exeter, Rhode Island, were charged with cruelty to animals, possession of firearms, and possession of narcotics.
Michael D. Valentine, 40, of Bidwell, Ohio, a suspect in dogfighting-related investigations since 2019, on May 4, 2023, “admitted to raising and training over fifty dogs near his home in Gallia County, Ohio,” according to the U.S. District Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Ohio. Valentine in April 2023 had pleaded guilty to multiple drug charges.
Collin Rand Jr., 33, of Cleveland, Ohio, previously arrested for alleged dogfighting in 2011, convicted in 2012, was indicted in May 2023 on 28 counts of dog fighting, six counts of cruelty to animals, two counts of drug possession and one count each of drug trafficking and possessing criminal tools.
Angelo McCoy, 52, of Akron, Ohio, previously arrested for dogfighting in 2014 and 2015, also with a long history of arrests for possession of heroin, cocaine, and prescription drugs, was in May 2023 again charged with dogfighting.
Pit bulls are used in 87% of crimes in which dogs are accessories
But testing the hypothesis voiced by Pacelle, ANIMALS 24-7 found that even though drug abuse and other violent crimes against humans are part of the known criminal history of more than 70% of alleged dogfighters, use of pit bulls in particular as accessories to violent crimes against humans is far more common than use of pit bulls in dogfighting.
This is not even counting cases in which pit bulls are turned against police officers responding to reports of other criminal activity.
During the first half of 2023, pit bulls were involved in 90% of the violent crimes against humans in which dogs were reported accessories.
Pit bulls were involved in 82% of the violent crimes against humans in which dogs were reported accessories in 2022, and in 90% of the violent crimes against humans in which dogs were reported accessories in 2021, again not counting cases in which dogs––almost always pit bulls––were allowed or encouraged to charge police responding to other alleged crimes.
Overall, pit bulls were used in 87% of the crimes against humans in which dogs of any sort were accessories.