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Sunday, Jun 18, 2006County: Jackson
Defendant/Suspect: Leonard Jeffries
Case Updates: 1 update(s) available
His face was mauled and infected so badly that his lower jaw had rotted away. And yet, he was alive in the back yard at 2065 Wellworth Ave.
That meant owner Leonard Jeffries still valued the emaciated pit bull as a breeder, Jackson County Animal Control Officer Machell Dunlap said.
She seized five pit bulls June 18 from the Jackson property after an anonymous caller reported potential animal abuse.
"I could tell all the dogs had been fought," Dunlap said. "They had bite marks, skin tears, they were skinny and their faces were swollen."
While dog-fighting charges are unusual in Jackson County, the brutal trade is thriving here, some authorities say. "I'd say it is pretty good-sized," Dunlap said.
Jackson Police Lt. Aaron Kantor said officers often suspect dog fighting in animal-abuse calls.
"It is rare we get a complaint where it is occurring at the time," Kantor said. "More often it is an animal-abuse case in which the injuries are consistent with dog fighting."
Experts across the nation say dog fighting cuts across cultures and is practiced mostly by rural whites and inner-city blacks, generally from a low socioeconomic level.
Dr. Randall Lockwood, a dog-fighting expert with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said Michigan seems to be a hot spot for a resurgent dog-fighting industry.
"It has shifted from the large, organized conventions to a more amateur, street-fighting thing," Lockwood. "In the past, it was more of a rural crime, but we are seeing it more in the cities."
Jeffries, 28, faces two counts of fighting dogs -- a potential four-year felony -- and five counts of animal cruelty, plus charges of felony firearms possession, drug possession and maintaining a drug house.
Officials euthanized the dog whose face was partly missing. Pictures show a sad wreck that could barely hold his head up under the weight of a log chain bolted to a thick collar.
Animal shelter personnel have since nurtured the other four dogs back to health.
"That's to prove to the court they had been abused and can be restored," Dunlap said.
Rehabilitation ends when the foursome no longer can be trial evidence, probably in late fall or early winter. They will be killed after Jeffries' case ends. That is the fate of most fighting dogs.
"We cannot sell them. They are very friendly with humans, but can never be around other animals," she said.
Dunlap said she got lucky in the June investigation. She received search warrants for two houses Jeffries owns, and went in with officers from the Jackson Narcotics Enforcement Team, which found a large bag of suspected marijuana and an illegal gun.
Detective Lt. Steve Galbreath, assigned to JNET, said dogs such as pit bulls and rottweilers are common in the drug trade.
"We had to shoot a dog that a drug suspect let out of his house to attack officers," Galbreath said. The dog was a rottweiler-St. Bernard mix that its owners placed in a bad situation, he said.
"We come in contact with a lot of animals, and not a lot of them are real vicious," he said.
Jeffries' Wellworth Avenue home is as secluded as any property in Jackson, just beyond the factory district between High and South streets, down a dead-end street and shrouded in thick woods.
Several attempts to reach Jeffries at home were unsuccessful. His attorney, Hugh Clarke, did not return calls to his office, including one Friday.
Dunlap said the investigation revealed more than enough evidence to charge Jeffries with dog fighting, although he was not caught in the act.
Busting dog fights in progress is nearly impossible. The last time Jackson County officials came close was in June 2000, when they raided a barn in Tompkins Township and seized 15 fighting dogs.Only the property owner, Donald Borgula, served jail time for dog fighting. Six others from outside Michigan were cleared when officials could not prove they attended the fight. Dunlap said the participants scattered.
Dog-fighting pits are generally temporary venues in city houses, country barns and even cemeteries, Dunlap said. The players, dogs and bettors can vanish in minutes and regroup with ease.
The Jeffries' investigation, however, offered a treasure trove of evidence, including a DVD of gruesome dog fights, scales to weigh dogs, fighting collars, medications, needles, e-mails, records, supplements and steroids, Dunlap said.
Despite the nutritional supplements aimed at building muscle, the dogs on Wellworth were gaunt and dull, Dunlap said.
"Before they fight, they starve them a few days to put them under anxiety and make them want to fight more," Dunlap said.
A pair of dogs fight until one is disabled or too tired to continue, usually under an hour.
Pit bulls can be loving pets. With their powerful jaws and genetic disposition, however, they can be killers in the wrong hands. It is a myth that a pit bull's jaws lock when they clamp down.
Pit bulls often are trained on smaller, more docile dogs, likely neighborhood strays.
In southern states, pit bulls not only fight each other, but are used in so-called hog-dog rodeos in which they take down feral hogs in enclosed rings. Dog-animal fights for money can be traced back to the early 1800s, Lockwood said.
"Breeders of fighting dogs are looking for gameness -- a persistent and high degree of aggressiveness toward other dogs," Lockwood said. "The dogs of choice currently are the American pit bull terrier and the American bulldog."
Dunlap said pit bulls in Jackson are used in the drug trade as protection, and as a source of income as breeders and fighters.
"A bitch that wins fights increases the value of her offspring," Dunlap said. "The same is true of stud dogs."
Amateur videos seized from Jeffries allegedly show numerous fights in which dozens of spectators cheer wildly for blood. It is unclear where the scenes were filmed, or whether any local dogs or people were identified.
"One dog had its face torn apart and the people were yelling, 'Get him! Get him!' There were even kids there. It makes you sick," Dunlap said.
Lockwood said dog fighting is dangerous to both dogs and people, and just plain sad.
"Dog fighting is the greatest betrayal of that special relationship between humans and dogs," he said. "I have to question the humanity of anyone who would place a dog in that position."
| A Jackson man accused of dog fighting was sentenced Thursday to 270 days in the Jackson County Jail.|
Leonard Jeffries, 28, pleaded guilty to possessing fighting dogs and possession with intent to deliver marijuana.
Circuit Judge Edward Grant noted Jeffries could have received up to six years in prison as a repeat drug offender.
"I want to apologize for making such poor decisions," Jeffries said, blaming his actions on drug addiction.
Acting on a complaint, Jackson County Animal Control officers on June 19 seized five pit bulls at 2065 Wellworth Ave. All were injured and none had food or water, officers said. One dog was immediately euthanized because of its injuries, and the others were held for evidence.
Any fighting dog seized by Animal Control is eventually destroyed.
The investigation led to a search of a second property in Jackson, where officers found 23 bags of marijuana and marijuana-growing equipment.
"You told officers you were growing marijuana to support your own drug habit," Grant said.
Jeffries, whose nickname is "Baby Boy," made headlines in 2003 when he was pummeled outside the Sauk Trail American Legion Post, 439 E. Prospect St.
Testimony indicated Jeffries might have started a brawl by wielding a handgun and was stomped unconscious by at least two men. Jamal S. Hunt and Anthony J. Neal were convicted in the beating, and Grant sentenced them to prison.
|Source: Citizen Patriot - Jan 19, 2007|
Update posted on Jan 19, 2007 - 2:54PM
- The Citizen Patriot - Oct 21, 2006
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