Federal prosecutors are one step closer to taking permanent custody of nearly half of the 64 pit bulls seized in April that they say are part of a large dog-fighting ring in the Quad-Cities.

On Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Sara Darrow granted prosecutors’ emergency motion seeking an entry of default against 14 people — five of whom they have named as possible participants in the ring — served in the case who did not file a claim or answer seeking to contest the forfeiture of any of the dogs.

The 27 dogs were seized April 14 from the home of Ryan M. Hickman in the 500 block of 14th Avenue; the home of Marcus Holmes in the 500 block of 6th Street; the home of Stantrel Knight in the 4000 block of 20th Avenue; and the home of Timon Mayfield in the 900 block of 14th Avenue, all in Rock Island.

The judge’s ruling essentially “ends their participation in the case,” said Sharon Paul, a spokeswoman from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The same day Darrow granted the motion, prosecutors filed a new motion seeking a final judgment and order that forfeits the property to the U.S. Marshals Service.

If the judge grants the motion, marshals can then “dispose” of the pit bulls according to law, which includes transferring all “right, title, and interest” of the dogs to a shelter or other appropriate organization for further assessment or adoption, according to a proposed forfeiture order filed with the motion.

Darrow has not filed a final forfeiture order as of Monday.

April raid

Federal and local law enforcement and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals removed 64 dogs from a dozen homes in Rock Island and Davenport on April 14.

One of the dogs taken from Knight’s home died the next day while being transported to a temporary shelter because of severe anemia, according to court documents.

Although no criminal charges have been filed, prosecutors filed a 15-page complaint for forfeiture and claimed the dogs are subject to seizure and forfeiture because they were used as gambling devices and were involved in a violation of the Animal Welfare Act. The measure regulates the treatment of animals in research, exhibition, transport and by dealers.

Confidential sources and cooperating witnesses provided information to law enforcement that several individuals in the area have been involved or participated in an illegal dog-fighting operation, including gambling on dog fights, in Illinois, Iowa, Alabama and Mississippi, according to the complaint. They also have purchased and transported dogs from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Alabama and Mississippi, according to the complaint.

Prosecutors in the civil forfeiture complaint listed 17 individuals they say are thought to be involved with dog fighting. They include: Hickman, Willie Jackson, Quentin Clemons, Algerron Goldsmith Sr., Simmeon Hall, Holmes, Sherrick Houston, Jaquan Jones, Knight, Denzell Lee, Andre Lidell, Mayfield, Demarlo McCoy, Terril McDuffy, Derrick Nephew, Torrie Roberts and Darrick Rodgers.

The complaint claims, in at least two cases, dogs that lost a fight were killed by their owners, then hung by the neck in front of spectators.

Dogs were seized from the homes of Hickman, Holmes, Houston, Goldsmith, Jackson, Jones, Knight, Lidell, Mayfield, McCoy and McDuffy.

Hickman and Jackson were charged in Rock Island County Circuit Court with drug charges following the dog seizure.

Prosecutors in May confirmed that a criminal investigation into the dog-fighting ring was under way. Paul declined to comment on the criminal case Monday.

Denying accusations

McDuffy, of Davenport, and Houston, Jones, Jackson, Lidell, McCoy and Goldsmith, all of Rock Island, have filed claims seeking to have dogs returned. In their claims, the men denied they are involved in dog fighting and stated the animals were well cared for.

One woman, who was not named as a possible participant in the forfeiture complaint, also has filed a claim for one pit bull that was seized at the home of Jones.

Those claims have not been resolved as of Monday, according to online court records.

The dogs will remain in the custody of the ASPCA until further order from the court.

Prosecutors filed their emergency motion for default in October. Tim Rickey, field investigations and response for the ASPCA, wrote in an affidavit filed in support of the motion that 25 of the 27 dogs that were named in the motion have been housed and cared for in an ASPCA-run temporary shelter since they were seized. The two other dogs are in foster care, he wrote.

“Despite the high quality of care the dogs are receiving, even the most well-equipped animal shelters cannot replicate the environment of a human home that domesticated dogs have evolved to function in, and cannot adequately meet the psychological and social needs of dogs housed in a shelter for more than a short stay,” Rickey wrote.

Animals housed in shelters for extended periods of time, despite the quality of care they receive, often decline medically and behaviorally from stress, and they become less adoptable, he wrote.

Kelly Krause, a spokeswoman for the ASPCA, said she could not comment on the dogs until the judge signs off on a final forfeiture order.

“Our hope is to help find homes for the dogs when/if we receive custody,” she wrote in an email.

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