LOS ANGELES – Two men who bred and trained pit bulls for fighting have been sentenced to state prison after animal cruelty investigators broke up their dogfighting ring, officials announced Monday.
Walter Citizen, 43, and Arnett Counts, 42, were arrested last year after investigators got a tip that dogs were being mistreated at Citizen's property in South Los Angeles. Seventeen dogs and four puppies were rescued from the house, where the adult animals were staked to heavy chains in the backyard and several bore the scars of recent fights, officials said.
"Most of the dogs were injured, underweight, many had open sores and most had an extreme case of flea infestation," Police Chief William Bratton said at a news conference.
Citizen and Counts, friends since high school, were charged with 10 felony counts of dogfighting.
Counts was convicted on all 10 counts and sentenced Monday to five years in prison. Citizen pleaded guilty to some of those counts and was sentenced in February to three years in prison.
The dogfighting ring was run out of the home of the Citizen's deceased grandparents, Deputy District Attorney Kimberly Abourezk said. Investigators found a canine treadmill, medical equipment and a log detailing the training of at least one dog, she said.
Some animals had recent wounds that were stapled shut, and all but three or four dogs were in such bad shape or so aggressive they were euthanized, officials said. The remainder may be adopted.
On a cast iron fence outside Citizens' house Monday, a sign read: "Never mind the dog, beware of owner."
Neighbor Lee Porter said he could sometimes hear dogfights.
"They would be fighting dogs," Porter said. "You would hear that actual sound of dogs biting, screaming and hollering."
Citizen's defense attorney Stephen R. Kahn said his client grew up in Louisiana where dogfighting was part of the culture. He said his client is an animal lover who is remorseful about his involvement in the dogfighting ring. Citizen's dogs were well cared for, Kahn said.
"What's happened in the past is in the past and now we go forward," Kahn said. "In today's world there is not a place for this kind of activity and he recognizes that."
Counts' attorney did not immediately return a message seeking comment Monday.
Lt. John Pasquariello, who heads the police department's animal cruelty task force, said prosecutors usually go after dogfighting rings by charging participants with gambling offenses. The case against Counts marked the first time the city has taken dogfighting charges to trial, Abourezk said.
Pasquariello said dogfighting remains "fairly rampant" in the city, particularly in South Los Angeles. Cockfighting, another of his office's concerns, is predominantly found in immigrant communities, but dogfighting has a broader reach.
"It's not white, black or Hispanic," he said. "It's widespread across all cultures."
Pasquariello said dogfighting awareness has increased, particularly since former football star Michael Vick was sentenced to 23 months after pleading guilty last year to bankrolling a dogfighting operation.