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Feds Successfully Prosecute Dog Fighting Ring

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Several Alabama residents were among 8 persons sentenced by the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama for their roles in what was the second largest dog fighting raid in U.S. history in August 2013. The case was led by the United States Attorney’s Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

The sentences ranged from six months to eight years, which is the longest prison term handed down in a federal dog fighting case to this point.

U.S. Attorney George L. Beck Jr. said in a statement, “These dogs lived in deplorable conditions that constituted extraordinary cruelty.  They were made to fight and if they lost, they were killed.  In addition to the brutality experienced by the dogs, these events attracted drugs dealers and illegal gambling. It was not uncommon for large amounts of cash, often between twenty and two-hundred thousand dollars, to change hands.  The prospect of huge profits made these fights even more popular and provided a venue for other criminal activity.  I hope that these sentences demonstrate the seriousness of this crime and will deter others from committing these atrocities.”

Throughout the hearing, U.S. District Judge Keith Watkins commented on the extreme cruelty committed both due to dog fighting and the conditions in which these dogs were forced to live. Judge Watkins further reiterated that the federal sentencing guidelines for dog fighting are wholly inadequate to address the seriousness of the crime.

Judge Watkins estimated that the defendants had injured or killed between 420 to 640 dogs in the course of this dog fighting operation. Intertwined with the dog fighting was drugs, weapons and violence intertwined with dog fighting.

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On Wednesday, Donnie Anderson, 50, from Auburn, Alabama, received an eight-year sentence after pleading guilty to conspiracy, sponsoring dog fights, possessing a fighting dog and operating an illegal gambling business.  Demontt Allen, 38, of Houston, Texas, received five years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy and admitting participation in high-stakes dog fights.  Michael Martin, 56, also of Auburn, received a five-year sentence after pleading guilty to conspiracy and being a felon in possession of firearms.  Irkis Forrest, 33, from Theodore, received a three-year sentence after pleading guilty to conspiracy.  William Antone Edwards, 43, from Brantley, received one year and one day in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy. Sandy Brown, 48, from Brownsville, received six months in prison for sponsoring a dog fight. Edward Duckworth, 39, of Decatur, Ga., received 14 months in prison and two years of supervised release after pleading guilty to conspiracy.  Jennifer McDonald, 36, of Collins, Miss., received two months in prison and two years of supervised release after pleading guilty to conspiracy.

Judge Watkins also ordered that after their release from prison, each defendant serve a two or three-year term of supervised release. While on supervised release, the defendants are prohibited from possessing dogs.  Further, a restitution hearing will be scheduled in the future where the defendants may be ordered to pay restitution to the ASPCA and The HSUS for the cost of caring for the seized dogs. Some defendants will be required to attend a drug program due to the large amounts of drugs involved with this case.

The Vice President of ASPCA Field Investigations and Response Tim Rickey said in a statement, “This is truly a landmark case for the animal welfare community.  We hope this case serves as a precedent for future dog fighting cases and sends a message to dog fighters everywhere that this crime will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. We are grateful to Assistant U.S. Attorney Clark Morris of the Office of U.S. Attorney George L. Beck for her determination in seeking justice for the hundreds of dogs tortured at the hands of their owners.”

The case was investigated by the Auburn Police Department, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  The Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board; the Coffee County Sheriff’s Office; the Alabama State Troopers; the Lee County District Attorney’s Office; the Alabama Department of Public Safety; Bainbridge, Georgia Department of Public Safety; the Georgia Bureau of Investigation; the Echols County ‘Sheriff’s Office, the United States Marshals Service; the Lee County Sheriff’s Office; the Houston County Sheriff’s Office; the Opelika Police Department; the Georgia Highway Patrol; the Georgia Bureau of Investigation; the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation; the Pensacola, Florida and Columbus, Georgia offices of the Drug Enforcement Administration; and Taylor Crossing Animal Hospital all provided assistance.

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The Animal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Human Society of the United States assisted federal authorities by caring for the hundreds of seized dogs and providing for their care following the raids.  The dogs have since found new homes.  Assistant United States Attorney Clark Morris prosecuted the case.

Dog fighting is illegal in Alabama and in all 50 states it is also a Federal crime.  Then Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick was successfully prosecuted and served time for his involvement in a dog fighting ring.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Health

Alabama breaks daily case record, hospitalizations reach new high for third straight day

Rising cases and hospitalizations suggest the death toll will keep climbing in the weeks and months to come.

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Alabama on Wednesday broke the state’s record for a single-day increase in coronavirus cases, and for a third straight day had record high COVID-19 hospitalizations. 

There were 1,801 hospitalized COVID-19 patients statewide on Wednesday, which was a 40 percent increase compared to two weeks ago. The rapid pace of rising hospitalizations is raising alarms among hospitals already overburdened with coronavirus patients, in addition to regular patients seeking other care.

Concern is also rising among public health experts and hospital officials that Thanksgiving gatherings will lead to the number only increasing in the days and weeks to come.

Dr. Jeanna Marrazzo, director of UAB’s Division of Infectious Diseases, told reporters Tuesday that there is a possibility that hospitals will have to set up mobile hospitals to care for the rush of patients, and that she worries hospitals may not have enough staff to care for “what might be a tidal wave of patients in the next month.” 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield made a dire prediction Wednesday during a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event, as cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to surge across the country. More than 90,000 people in the U.S. were hospitalized for COVID-19 on Wednesday, Redfield said.

“The reality is December and January and February are going to be rough times. I actually believe they’re going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation,” Redfield said.

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UAB Hospital was caring for a record 127 COVID-19 patients on Wednesday, the second straight record-high day for the hospital. Huntsville Hospital on Tuesday had a record 317 COVID-19 patients. The hospital hadn’t updated daily numbers as of Wednesday afternoon. There were no formal intensive care beds available in Mobile County on Tuesday. 

The Alabama Department of Public Health reported 3,928 COVID-19 new cases Wednesday but noted that 706 were older test results not reported to the department from an outside facility until Tuesday. Even without those cases included, the remaining 3,222 cases reported Wednesday amount to the largest single-day increase, excluding a similar but larger backlog of old test results reported Oct. 23. 

Alabama’s 14-day average for new daily cases was at 2,382 on Wednesday, which is a 29 percent increase from two weeks ago. 

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Rising daily cases can’t be attributed to more testing, however. Over the past week, roughly 35 percent of reported tests have been positive. Public health experts say that number — known as the positivity rate — should be at or below 5 percent otherwise cases may be going undetected and not enough tests are being performed.

ADPH also reported 73 more COVID-19 deaths Wednesday, bringing the state’s death toll to at least 3,711 deaths. Of those deaths added to the count today, 20 occurred during the month of November, 32 occurred in previous months, and 21 aren’t yet dated by the department, meaning they could be new deaths from late November or early December.

Of the 779 deaths added to the death toll in November, 34 percent died in the month of November, 56 percent died during previous months and the remaining 10 percent haven’t yet been dated. 

Deaths are lagging indicators, and it can take weeks, and sometimes months, for ADPH to review medical data and confirm a person died of COVID-19 and verify the date on which they died, so it will likely be many weeks before a clearer picture emerges as to how many Alabamians are currently dying from coronavirus.

Rising cases and hospitalizations suggest the death toll will keep climbing in the weeks and months to come.

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News

Two more Alabama inmates die after testing positive for COVID-19

The deaths mark the 33rd and 34th deaths among inmates within Alabama’s correctional facilities.

John H. Glenn

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Two inmates in Alabama prisons have died after testing positive for COVID-19, marking the 33rd and 34th deaths among inmates within Alabama’s correctional facilities.

Ash-Shakur Halim Shabazz, 60, who was serving a 26-year sentence at Limestone Correctional Facility, was transferred to a local hospital on Nov. 20 after exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19. Shabazz suffered from multiple pre-existing medical conditions, dying the same day he was admitted to the local hospital. The full autopsy concluded that Shabazz was positive for COVID-19 at the time of his death, according to the ADOC press release.

Three days later, a second inmate, Danny Joe Mann, 66, died after being transferred to a local hospital.

Serving a 20-year sentence at Hamilton Community Based-Facility/Community Work Center, Mann likewise suffered from multiple pre-existing medical conditions and was transferred on Nov. 23 after showing symptoms of COVID-19. He was tested upon admission and a positive test result was confirmed. Mann died later that same day.

As of Nov. 27, 834 inmates and 645 ADOC staff members have tested positive for COVID-19, according to ADOC’s COVID dashboard. Of those inmates, 40 have recently tested positive at eight separate facilities, while 30 workers at nine facilities recently tested positive.

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National

Department of Justice sues Ashland Housing Authority alleging racial discrimination

“AHA has engaged in a pattern or practice of race discrimination by steering applicants to housing communities based on race,” the complaint alleges. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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The U.S. Department of Justice on Tuesday filed a lawsuit alleging that the Housing Authority of Ashland violated the Fair Housing Act by intentionally discriminating against Black people who applied for housing because of their race.

The DOJ in its complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, names as defendants the Housing Authority of Ashland, the Southern Development Company of Ashland Ltd., Southern Development Company of Ashland #2 Ltd. and Southern Development Company LLC, which are the private owners and managing agent of one of those housing complexes.

The department’s complaint alleges that the Ashland Housing Authority denied Black applicants the opportunity to live in overwhelmingly white housing complexes on the city’s East Side, while steering white applicants away from properties whose residents were predominantly Black in the West Side. The AHA operates seven public housing communities spread across both areas, according to the complaint.

“From at least 2012 to the present, AHA has engaged in a pattern or practice of race discrimination by steering applicants to housing communities based on race and by maintaining a racially segregated housing program,” the complaint alleges.

The federal government states in the complaint that as of June 2018, 69 percent of all AHA tenants were white, but 99 percent of tenants at Ashland Heights, on the East Side, were white, 92 percent of tenants at another East Side community were white and 91 percent of tenants at yet another East Side housing development were white.

Similar disparities were seen in public housing communities in the West Side, the complaint states.

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AHA kept separate waiting lists for both segregated areas, the complaint alleges and allowed applicants who decline offers of housing “without showing good cause, even when they decline offers for race-based reasons,” to maintain their position on the waiting list, in violation of AHA’s own policies intended to prevent race discrimination.

“On April 11, 1968, one week after the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the United States enacted the Fair Housing Act to outlaw race, color and other forms of discrimination in housing. Denying people housing opportunities because of their race or color is a shameful and blatant violation of the Fair Housing Act,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division in a statement. “The United States has made great strides toward Dr. King’s dream of a nation where we will be judged by content of our character and not by the color of our skin.”

“The dream remains at least partially unfulfilled because we have not completely overcome the scourge of racial bias in housing,” Dreiband continued. “Discrimination by those who receive federal taxpayer dollars to provide housing to lower-income applicants is particularly odious because it comes with the support and authority of government. The United States Department of Justice will not stand for this kind of unlawful and intolerable discrimination. The Justice Department will continue to fight to protect the rights of all Americans to rent and own their homes without regard to their race or color.”

U.S. Attorney Prim F. Escalona for the Northern District of Alabama said in a statement that individuals and families should not have their rights affected by their race or national origin. “Our office is committed to defending the civil rights of everyone,” Escalona said.

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The lawsuit seeks damages to compensate victims, civil penalties to the government to vindicate the public interest and a court order barring future discrimination and requiring action to correct the effects of the defendants’ discrimination.

The DOJ in a press release encouraged those who believe they have been victims of housing discrimination at the defendants’ properties should contact the department toll-free at 1-800-896-7743, mailbox 9997, or by email at [email protected] Individuals who have information about this or another matter involving alleged discrimination may submit a report online at civilrights.justice.gov.

The DOJ in August the U.S. Housing and Urban Development determined that the Decatur Housing Authority was disallowing Black people to live in public housing located in riverfront towers while requiring Black people to live in less attractive apartments elsewhere.

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Economy

Clean water advocates want a comprehensive water plan for Alabama that creates jobs

Under new leadership, a plan for preserving clean water and fair access to it may be within reach in Alabama.

Micah Danney

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Environmentalists are optimistic about making progress on water resource issues and the state’s climate change preparedness under the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden and next Congress, particularly because the president-elect is indicating that economic gains go hand-in-hand with protecting the environment.

“It’s really exciting to see the Biden administration put jobs in the same conversation with their climate and environmental policies, because for too long there has been that false argument that jobs and the environment don’t go together — that you can’t have a regulated business sector and create jobs,” said Cindy Lowry, executive director of Alabama Rivers Alliance.

On a recent post-election call with other advocates, Lowry said that the current policy outlook reinforced the importance of voting. There have been some steps forward for conservation during the presidency of Donald Trump, she said, like the president’s signing of the Great American Outdoors Act in August, but the administration has prioritized industry interests.

Under new leadership, a plan for preserving clean water and fair access to it may be within reach in Alabama.

“We have spent so much time and energy as a movement trying to defend and basically just hold the line against so many of the rollbacks, and now we can focus on moving forward on certain areas,” Lowry said.

Julian Gonzalez, a clean water advocate with the nonprofit Earthjustice in Washington D.C., said on the call that the incoming Congress will be the “most environmentally aware Congress we’ve had.” Still, the real work remains.

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“Everything needs to be one conversation, and you should be able to go call your Congressperson and say, ‘How are you going to fix America’s water problem?’ and they should have an answer, but right now that’s not the case,” Gonzalez said.

For Alabama’s water advocates, priorities are what to do with coal ash, how to prepare for droughts and flooding, improvements to water and wastewater infrastructure and providing relief to communities that have been affected by environmental degradation.

While production of coal ash has reduced due mostly to market-driven decreases in the burning of coal, enough facilities still use it that Alabama is developing its own permitting process and regulations for storing it. The Biden administration can provide leadership on the issue, Lowry said.

While many people associate water issues with drought, Lowry said the topic encompasses much more than that. Pipes that contain lead need to be replaced. There’s plenty of water, she said, but the state needs a comprehensive water plan that prepares communities for drought management, especially as more farmers use irrigation, which uses more water.

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Her organization has been working toward a state plan that can ensure fair access to water without depleting the environment of what it needs to remain stable.

With the increased frequency and intensity of storms being attributed to climate change, water infrastructure will need to be upgraded, Lowry said. Many communities rely on centralized treatment centers to handle their wastewater, and many of those facilities are overburdened and experience spills. Storms and flash floods push old pipes and at-capacity centers past their breaking points — pipes leak or burst and sewage pits overflow.

Lowry said that there has been some progress in recent years on funding infrastructure upgrades in communities and states. It’s a more bipartisan conversation than other environmental issues, and communities that have been hit hard by multiple storms are starting to have new ideas about how to rebuild themselves to better withstand the effects of climate change.

Still, Alabama’s preparedness efforts are all reactionary, which is why a comprehensive water plan is a priority, she said.

“Policies like that — proactive policies that are really forward-thinking about how we will make decisions if we do run into challenges with our environment — are something that this state has not been very strong on,” she said.

Lowry hopes for more emphasis on environmental justice, with official agencies working more with local municipalities to provide relief to communities hurt by pollution and weather events. Such problems are characteristic of the Birmingham area, where Lowry is based, and the Black Belt.

She wants to see stronger permitting processes for industry projects and easier access to funding for cleanups in communities that need them. North Birmingham activists have been trying for years to get a Superfund site there on the Superfund National Priorities List.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to address these problems, Lowry said. Having multiple avenues for access to funding is important so that all communities have options. Smaller communities can’t always pay back loans, so they need access to grants.

Lowry emphasized that new jobs must be created without exacerbating climate change. Although Alabama tends to look to heavy industry for economic gains, she said she’s hopeful that a different approach by the Biden administration will trickle to the state level.

Lowry also said that conversations about climate change in Alabama have to be put in terms of what is happening in Alabama.

For her and other environmentalists working in the Deep South, it’s all about relationships and establishing trust. The environment becomes a less partisan issue when you focus on the basics, she said, because everyone wants clean water.

“I’ve found it much more easy to have conversations with elected officials at the state level in places like Alabama, where people do kind of grow up a little closer to nature and conservation, and [by] just kind of meeting people where they are,” Lowry said.

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