New Site Director of Public Safety John McKelvey has proof that it doesn't take a huge law enforcement to pursue an animal-fighting case. Listen up, law officers reluctant to put in the time and effort necessary to crack down on animal cruelty.New Site Director of Public Safety John McKelvey (Courtesy New Site City website) McKelvey is the case agent in the ongoing Tallapoosa County dogfighting case after authorities, including McKelvey and his only other police officer, last November that resulted in six people being charged with multiple counts of dog fighting, animal cruelty and other crimes. Thirty-one dogs were rescued in the raids.
Earlier this month, the first of those six defendants, Roderick Sweetwyne, 42, of Alexander City, to four counts of dogfighting and one count of possession of a controlled substance. The second of those six defendants, Jennifer Kelley, 26, also of Alexander City, last Friday to four counts of aggravated animal cruelty.
Sweetwyne was sentenced to five years in prison. Kelley was sentenced to three years for each count and will serve at least 10 months in jail and three years' probation. Both Sweetwyne and Kelley also must pay restitution that includes the dogs' housing, vet care and feeding.
"We're fortunate here to have some jail time for these people," McKelvey said. "It's great when you see jail time for this."About the writerJoey Kennedy is an opinion writer who focuses on animal issues for the Alabama Media Group. He is also a community engagement specialist for AL.com. He can be reached at .Read moreThe convictions and jail time show law enforcement officials that it's worth cracking down on animal abuse crimes. McKelvey said since last November's raids, he's been contacted by other law enforcement agencies about how to successfully plan and execute a successful investigation on such criminal rings.
This was no simple task, but McKelvey used a winning strategy and, of course, he said his two-person police department couldn't do it alone.
"I'd been working on this thing for two years," McKelvey said. "The conditions of the dogs were deplorable. But it wasn't unexpected, not by me. I kind of knew what to expect."
Once McKelvey started building the case and gathering evidence, he contacted the for help.
"That's one of the things that's so hard: the cost," McKelvey said. "It'll financially break a department." But the Humane Society offered the resources the New Site Police Department needed to finish the job.
"I couldn't do it if it weren't for the Humane Society," McKelvey said. "We've got ,000 to ,000 tied up in the animals we seized that day."
That cost includes veterinary care, feeding, and housing -- and it's part of the restitution Sweetwyne and Kelley (and others who plead or are convicted in a trial) will have to pay.
On the day of the raid last November, close to 100 officers from federal, state and local agencies took part, including McKelvey's tiny force, the Tallapoosa County Sheriff's Office, Alexander City Police Department, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Humane Society of the United States.
But the New Site duo were the point of the spear.
"I don't know how many man hours we spent on this thing over two years," McKelvey said. "Over a two-year time, I and the other guy who works with me probably spent in excess of 500 man hours on it."
That's a lot of time, to be sure, but McKelvey points out that as cruel as dog fighting is, there are other crimes taking place as well at these events. And the effort is well worth the expense and time.
"It's definitely worth it," McKelvey said, admitting that "dog fighting is a pet peeve of mine. It is absolutely ridiculous for somebody to put an animal on an animal, and they have to fight to survive." He used to raise beagles and has a 180-pound Great Dane and a 15-pound Jack Russell terrier at home. (The Great Dane thinks he's a Jack Russell, McKelvey said with a chuckle.)
McKelvey knows from experience how cruel animal fighting is -- he was involved in breaking up a dog fighting ring in Randolph County several years ago, where 100 dogs were seized.
The Tallapoosa case he's currently working saw six arrests and 161 indictments, not all of them for animal cruelty or dog fighting.
"That's another thing," McKelvey said. "Dog fighting and animal cruelty, drug transactions, drug dealing, drug use, weapons, firearms transactions . . . they all go together. They use the fights as a gathering place to do narcotics deals and weapons transactions."
Of the three residences raided, McKelvey said, drugs were found at two.
Those people who argue that dog fighting isn't much different than boxing are absolutely wrong, McKelvey said.
"You put two men in a boxing ring, they can quit anytime and then go home," McKelvey said. "In dog fighting, the winner is tied up on a chain and the loser is probably going to be killed."
One of the encouraging lessons to take from McKelvey's (and the many other people's) work on this important case, is there is a way to successfully crack down on dog fighting rings. They take time and resources, but the resources are there for those who want to move forward.
"Alabama has one of the strongest dog-fighting laws in the nation," McKelvey said. "You've got the laws to work with if you can just get the dedication, time and finances to work these cases." And "these cases" are everywhere, McKelvey, in every county.
McKelvey said he expects the remaining four defendants to plead as well.
"There's a substantial amount of evidence," McKelvey said. "I'd love to go to trial, where I could just show the public what it takes to work these kinds of cases and what's involved in them. You don't get to do that when they do a plea. I'd love to go to trial, but I don't think they will."
As for the dogs seized in the raid, after the case is over, they will be evaluated for acceptance into the placement partners.
In the end, some of them may yet find themselves living out a life of peace, quiet and comfort, while their abusers spend a bit of time in a human-sized crate known as jail.
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