2 Years Later, Gary Firefighter Goes to Trial
Gary, IN - Two years after he was first charged, Gary firefighter Carlton Davis Jr. will stand trial this week on more than two dozen counts of animal cruelty and animal fighting for allegedly running a dogfighting operation out of his Calumet Township home.
When police raided Davis' home in June 2006, they found six dog carcasses and 15 fight-scarred dogs, treadmills fitted with leashes, training schedules that lead up to "game day," and what appeared to be a bloodied fighting ring. Davis, 34, petitioned to have the search declared illegal, and claims he was nothing more than a dog-lover who ran a small, breeding operation.
The run-up to the trial, which starts Monday, has been lengthy and at times, bizarre. Who would have guessed?
Days after 15 dogs were confiscated from Davis' home, would-be thieves made a brazen attempt to steal the dogs from the Lake County Sheriff's kennel, which sits a few yards from the sheriff's headquarters. Investigators later discovered a web site marketing pit bulls with fierce "predator instinct" operated by another firefighter.
Media attention surrounding the case became somewhat intense and Judge Salvador Vasquez issued a gag order on attorneys in the case. Anti-cruelty activists have flooded Vasquez's office to protest delays in the trial. Betty Clayton, executive director of the Humane Society of Northwest Indiana in Gary, says that this is an important case.
"They think that by getting delay after delay after delay they can force it out of the public eye, and they won't prosecute it like they should."
Dogfighters have developed pat defenses to explain legal uses for equipment prosecutors claim is fighting paraphernalia. For instance, they say apparent fighting rings aren't stained with blood from canine combatants, they are "whelping pits" where females have given birth. And, they say, the dogs aren't scarred from organized fights, just normal rough play.
Randall Lockwood, an animal behaviorist and head of anti-cruelty initiatives for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, says that these defenses don't always work. Lockwood has helped investigators and testified in dogfighting cases for more than 20 years.
"You don't need an eyewitness to a dogfight to get a conviction. A jury has to weigh the preponderance of all the circumstantial evidence," Lockwood said.
Since the charges were filed, Davis has remained on duty. Davis forfeited the dogs after he was unable to pay a $48,000 bond for their care. Five of Davis' dogs still remain in the custody of the Lake County Sheriff. A community liaison, April Borda, says the dogs were reconditioned by animal trainers to become less aggressive. Ten others were adopted.
DogsBite.org forecasts a serious lawsuit if one of the adopted dog turns out to be not so "reconditioned."