Friday, November 7, 2008

Dog-fighting investigation could involve several states: Three charged in Graves County

Dog-fighting investigation could involve several states: Three charged in Graves County

Nov 07, 2008 (The Paducah Sun - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- PPC | Quote | Chart | News | PowerRating -- Authorities in Graves and McCracken counties believe they are on the trail of a major dog-fighting operation that could spread across several states.
The investigation began Wednesday in Graves County when 72 pit bulls were discovered at two locations and moved to McCracken County early Thursday when 11 dead pit bulls were discovered in Clark's River on Bryant Ford Road east of Reidland.

Three people have been charged in Graves County. Amy DeBerry, 27, and Joanal DeBerry, 29, face 30 felony counts of cruelty to animals. Thomas McClellan, 55, of Clinton faces two drug charges and driving without an operator's license. Joanal DeBerry also is charged with possession of a controlled substance.

Graves County Deputy Sheriff Davant Ramage said the dogs were left in the woods and at the home on Wednesday night. On Thursday, Amy and Joanal DeBerry sign documents turning the dogs over to the Graves County Humane Society. Deputies and animal rescue volunteers went to the DeBerry home and a nearby wooded area Thursday night and removed the remaining dogs. Computers and other records also were taken from the DeBerry residence.

The deputy said the local humane society made arrangements for a nationwide animal rescue group to care for the dogs. "They are going to be kept all over the country," he said. "We have some people coming in from Nashville and other places."

Paducah veterinarian Eugene Ceglinski said the dogs discovered earlier Thursday in Clark's River died from gunshot wounds to the head. He said at least seven of them had been shot within 12 hours of the time they were discovered.

McCracken County Sheriff Jon Hayden said he believes the dogs were killed Wednesday night or Thursday morning after the owners learned of the raid in Graves County at the DeBerry home, on Ky. 1241 across from the Pilgrim's Pride chicken processing plant.

"Someone probably felt the heat and didn't want to be found with a large number of pit bulls," Hayden said. "The only way they could get rid of them was to kill them and dump them." He said they had been tossed over a bridge from Bryant Ford Road, less than five miles from the Graves County site where the other dogs were found.

Hayden said evidence was being gathered to identify the owners.

Ramage said the raids in Graves County and discovery in McCracken County are probably related. He believes the dogs in Graves had different owners than those in McCracken.

He said that more than two dozen dog-fighting magazines were found at the DeBerry residence and that many of the dogs showed signs of fight injuries.

"There's big money in dog fighting," Ramage said. "People bet on them, and purses for winners can be $5,000 or more. It is difficult to get information on this type of crime because people involved won't talk. They fear retaliation."

Ramage said he had not found anything to indicate dog-fighting was taking place in Graves County.

Ramage said the investigation began Wednesday when someone called to report a large number of dogs tied up in a wooded area off House Road in northern Graves County.

As deputies headed to the site, they followed a pickup truck occupied by three men. The truck stopped at the House Road site.

"They had been hired to care for the dogs and were there to feed them," Ramage said. McClellan was driving the truck. The other two occupants weren't charged.

Ramage said 20 dogs were in a clearing and chained to buried automobile axles. Ramage said the men gave them information that led them to the DeBerry home at 2754 Ky. 1241, about two miles away. At that site they discovered 52 more pit bulls.

Ramage said six of the dogs were in such bad shape that they were taken to a local animal shelter Wednesday night. "They had pieces out of their ears, and the upper lip of one dog was almost gone," Ramage said.

Ramage said one of the dogs bit a worker at the shelter Thursday morning. "We are getting a court order to put the dog down so we can check it for rabies," Ramage said. "It was a pretty severe bite."

In McCracken County, Hayden said he received a call about two weeks ago that someone had dumped one or more dead dogs off a bridge on Bryant Ford Road and into Clark's River.

"After I heard about what happened in Graves County, I went to the bridge this (Thursday) morning," Hayden said. "There was blood on the bridge and dead dogs in the water."

Volunteers with McCracken County Emergency Services put a boat in the river, and two workers recovered the bodies of 11 dogs.

Ceglinski examined the dogs and said all of them had been shot in the head.

Ceglinski determined that seven or eight of the dogs had been killed within hours of their discovery. Others died several days earlier. Hayden believes the dogs that died earlier may have been injured in fights and killed to end their misery.

Ceglinski said seven of the dogs were female and four were male. "The females were probably used for breeding," Ceglinski said. "The males were used for fighting." He said at least three males had injuries consistent with dog-fighting.

Hayden said bullets would be recovered and kept for evidence.

"I've never seen anything like this," said Ceglinski, a vet in Paducah for 34 years. "When you spent your life caring for animals, finding something like this is shocking. I guess it tells you something about human nature."

Bill Bartleman can be contacted at 575-8651.

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