Six indicted on dog-fighting, animal cruelty chargesPublished 4:37pm Friday, February 7, 2014
When New Site Police and dog-fighting investigators from the Humane Society of the United States raided three addresses in Tallapoosa County Nov. 19, they knew dogs were being fought there.
But the extent of the “heartbreaking conditions” they found were shocking even for those who investigate such cases on a regular basis.
“In one of the properties, we saw these skinny bodies on big, huge chains, with dilapidated shelters that didn’t even protect them from the elements,” said Janette Reever, the HSUS deputy manager of dog-fighting investigations. “You could see they were beaten-down little souls.”
The New Site Police Department and Tallapoosa County Sheriff’s Department arrested four men and one woman indicted last month on more than 160 counts of dog fighting and aggravated animal cruelty.
The charges were brought as the culmination of an almost two-year operation that led to the rescue of 55 dogs from three homes on Thomas Road and Highway 22 East in New Site, according to New Site Police Chief John McKelvey. Another woman is still being sought by law enforcement.
“It feels good to be through with this part of (the investigation), but this isn’t the end of it,” McKelvey said. “It was just despicable, the way these dogs were kept. There’s no sense in it.”
He said he was disgusted to see animals so abused, for no reason other than “pure entertainment and gambling.”
McKelvey said the operation began in 2012 when his department served a search warrant on the home of Delcarlos Holley, 42, of 12100 Highway 22 East. Cocaine, marijuana and a large amount of currency were seized in that operation and 25 dogs were rescued.
He was only charged for the drugs at that time, McKelvey said, and “that started the investigation.”
Warrants were served this week across the area after a Tallapoosa County Grand Jury delivered indictments stemming from the Nov. 19 raid of Holley’s home, the home of Erick Jerrod Calhoun at 174 Thomas Road and the home of Roderick Sweetwyne at 148 Thomas Road.
Holley was arrested Thursday on 68 grand jury indictments, 34 for dog-fighting and 34 for aggravated cruelty to animals. He pleaded guilty on the 2012 drug charges and had his probation revoked on those convictions.
Calhoun, 28, faces 18 counts of dog-fighting and 18 counts of aggravated cruelty to animals. Sweetwyne, 42, faces four counts of dog-fighting and four counts of aggravated cruelty to animals.
Calhoun’s brother, 27-year-old Justin Noble Calhoun of Collins Street in Eclectic, faces 18 counts of dog-fighting and 18 counts of aggravated cruelty to animals.
Sweetwyne faces four counts of dog-fighting and four counts of aggravated animal cruelty. He also faces charges for possession of a controlled substance — crack cocaine — and possession of drug paraphernalia. He also had his probation revoked. Jennifer Kelley was arrested on four counts of dog-fighting and four counts of aggravated animal cruelty and had her probation on a crack cocaine charge revoked.
Another woman, Sonja Benson, has not been arrested yet, McKelvey said, but faces 18 counts of dog-fighting and 18 counts of aggravated cruelty to animals.
McKelvey said more than 50 dogs were rescued from “deplorable conditions” in the November operation and await placement by the Humane Society.
All suspects are being held in the Tallapoosa County Jail. Justin and Erick Calhoun face bonds of $225,000. Holley, Kelly and Sweetwyne saw their probations revoked on previous drug-related convictions.
A variety of agencies joined the probe, including the Tallapoosa County Sheriff’s Office, Alexander City Police Department, ABC Board, Tallapoosa County Narcotics Task Force, agents from the Fifth Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office, the U.S. Humane Society, Montgomery Humane Society and Lake Martin Area Humane Society.
“There’s no telling how much the dogs from this case suffered before they were rescued, so we thank Alabama law enforcement for taking action on their behalf,” Janette Reever, deputy manager of dog-fighting investigations for the Humane Society of the United States said. “Dog-fighting is a despicable criminal enterprise, and we won’t stop working with authorities to eradicate it from wherever it festers.”
McKelvey thanked his partners in the long-running investigation.
“I want to thank all the different law enforcement agencies … and other citizens who donated their time and efforts to save these animals from a life of cruelty and suffering,” he said.
Humane Society personnel in Alexander City, Montgomery and from the national office have been assisting with the care of the animals since they were rescued.
Reever said HSUS has partnerships with facilities “that specialize in handling dogs that come from these situations.”
“They’re truly trauma victims,” she said. “They need to decompress, to get over the trauma of what they’ve been through before they can be placed in a forever home.”
Sadly, four of the animals seized in the raid did not survive or had to be euthanized, she said.
“As difficult and as heartbreaking as it was, the fact they were able to experience compassion and a soft, warm place to stay, it makes it bearable,” she said.
Reever gave credit to McKelvey and the other local officials for their work on the investigation.
“This was one of the best counties I’ve ever worked with,” she said. “These men and women were outstanding. They had the utmost professionalism and care for the animals. It was an honor.”
The Humane Society offers rewards of up to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of any person involved in illegal animal fighting. The HSUS asks anyone with information about animal fighting criminals to call 877-TIP-HSUS (877-847-4787). Tipsters’ identities are protected.