“Operation Bloodline” Results in Three Felony Pleas Following Rescue of 36 Pit Bulls – Over Half of Which Were Puppies.
Suffolk County, NY - April 10, 2018 - Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced the guilty pleas of all three defendants in “Operation Bloodline,” a year-long investigation conducted by the Attorney General’s Organized Crime Task Force and the Suffolk County Police Department, which took down a major dogfighting ring that was actively engaged in breeding and training American Pit Bull Terriers (“Pit Bulls”) for profit.
Last week before Hon. John B. Collins in Suffolk County Supreme Court, Richard Davis, 34, and Taikeem Wheeler, 27, both of Wyandanch, NY, pleaded guilty to the Class E felony of Prohibition of Animal Fighting in violation of the New York State Agriculture and Markets Law §351(2)(c). Davis also pled guilty to an unclassified misdemeanor of Prohibition of Animal Fighting in violation of the New York State Agriculture and Markets Law §351(2)(a)(b)(c). Wheeler also pled guilty to an unclassified misdemeanor of Prohibition of Animal Fighting in violation of the New York State Agriculture and Markets Law §351(3)(b). Martin Newkirk, 49, also of Wyandanch, previously pled guilty before Hon. John B. Collins to the Class E felony of Prohibition of Animal Fighting in violation of the New York State Agriculture and Markets Law §351(2)(d).
“Dogfighting is a barbaric, despicable, and illegal form of animal abuse that both tortures animals and endangers public safety,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “Operation Bloodline should send a clear message that we will hold animal abusers accountable – and I urge all New Yorkers to immediately report dogfighting and other animal cruelty to my office.”
Last fall, the Attorney General’s Organized Crime Task Force (OCTF), along with the Suffolk County Police Department, arrested Newkirk, Davis, and Wheeler, and executed search warrants at two Suffolk County locations. In addition to the evidence seized by the Attorney General’s office, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and the Town of Babylon’s Department of Animal Control (DAC) rescued 36 pit bulls, over half of which were puppies. The dogfighting ring had been operating since at least June 2016.
Fourteen pit bulls were rescued from Davis’ Birch Street home; twenty were rescued from Newkirk’s Irving Avenue home; and two were rescued from Wheeler’s N. 26th Street home.
As part of their pleas, Newkirk, Davis, and Wheeler surrendered all legal rights they had to the 36 pit bulls.
As a result, most of the rescued pit bulls have been placed by the ASPCA into new, safe homes since their rescue.
“This case illustrates the continuing prevalence of dogfighting in America, causing immense suffering for hundreds of thousands of dogs around the country,” said ASPCA President and CEO Matt Bershadker. “We’re thankful for the arrest and prosecution of these vicious individuals, and remain committed to working with local law enforcement to rescue and care for victimized animals, provide critical forensic and legal support, and advocate for stronger laws and penalties until dogfighting is completely eradicated and no dog will ever have to face this kind of cruelty.”
Dog fighters often make their money by selling dogs from strong “bloodlines,” descended from other successful fighters. Many of the pit bulls rescued in this case were of the RedBoy, Jeep, and Beast bloodlines, which are well-known bloodlines that dogfighters attempt to pass on through breeding for the sole purpose of developing future pit bulls that are aggressive and willing to engage in dogfighting. Several were infected with a red blood cell parasite known as Babesia gibsoni, which is known to be substantially more prevalent in fighting pit bulls than in pit bulls kept as house pets.
All 36 of the pit bulls were found virtually imprisoned in deplorable conditions, often tethered to heavy chains and segregated from one another, with no visible food or drinkable water, and with injuries consistent with earlier fights. One had an untreated broken front leg and another was significantly underweight. Virtually all of the adult pit bulls had fleas, dirty coats, and long claws, evidence of their solitary life on hard ground and indications of rarely having ever been walked. The majority of the pit bulls were found with numerous bite wounds that left scars; none appear to have been treated by a veterinarian.
Almost all of the pit bulls seized pursuant to the search warrants had been separated from one another; they were tethered to heavy chains, were singularly crated, and/or were segregated in their own kennel. These past injuries and conditions are indicative of training pit bulls to engage in dogfighting, in part, by severely limiting their ability to socialize with other pit bulls unless they are engaged in a fight or breeding. Even when being bred, they remain chained and held by their owner/breeder.
Police recovered numerous items of dogfighting paraphernalia at residences on Birch Street and Irving Avenue that demonstrate the sophistication of the training and breeding of these pit bulls by Wheeler, Davis, and Newkirk. Those items include bloody breaking sticks, which are designed to separate pit bulls, one of whose jaws have become locked in a grip on its opponent while engaged in dogfighting. Numerous heavy chains, double-thick dog collars, weighted dog vests, treadmills, and performance-enhancing dietary supplements were recovered as well. These items are used to build strength in a pit bull’s neck and shoulders, to control its weight, and to increase their endurance and stamina, as a dogfight to the death can last longer than an hour.
The defendants are scheduled to be sentenced on June 6, 2018 in Suffolk County Supreme Court before Hon. John B. Collins.
In May 2013, the Attorney General announced his Animal Protection Initiative, which included the goal of shutting down underground animal fighting rings across the state. To report dogfighting, animal abuse, pet lemon law violations, or give an anonymous tip about potential animal fighting rings, please call the Attorney General’s Helpline at 1-866-697-3444 OR submit an Animal Cruelty Complaint Form.
The Attorney General thanks the ASPCA, the Suffolk County Police Department, the New York City Police Department ACI Squad, and the Town of Babylon DAC.
This case was investigated by OCTF investigator Derek Stevens under the supervision of Deputy Chief Christopher Vasta. OCTF Assistant Deputy Attorney General Thomas Luzio is prosecuting the case, under the supervision of OCTF Deputy Bureau Chief Diego Hernandez, under the overall supervision of OCTF Deputy Attorney General Peri Alyse Kadanoff who runs the Organized Crime Task Force. Margaret Garnett is the Executive Deputy Attorney General for the Criminal Division.