A U.S. District Court judge Thursday sentenced seven men to sentences ranging from time served to 30 months in prison for their role in a large dog-fighting venture in the Quad-Cities dating back at least to 2011.
Although Judge Sara Darrow said that the operation appeared to be amateur in terms of sophistication, there was evidence to suggest that things were ramping up, such as the breeding of and promotion of the pit bulls.
Dogs, she said, rely on humans for care and love. Pit bulls are especially vulnerable because they are loyal dogs.
“You and your co-defendants repaid that loyalty by turning that against them and abusing them,” she said during the hearing for Demarlo A. McCoy, who prosecutors say was one of the bigger players in the dog-fighting venture and hosted several fights in his basement.
“I just wanted to say I’m sorry for my actions,” McCoy said in Rock Island federal court before Darrow handed down a 24-month prison sentence and three years of supervised release. “A lot was said that wasn’t true … I never killed a dog.”
McCoy, 30, of Rock Island, who is free on bond, must turn himself in Oct. 30.
Another defendant, Willie E. Jackson told the judge that the entire ordeal has been traumatic for him, his family and close friends. He said he lost his job, as well as a “dream” internship. He has since found a new job, he said.
The news of his involvement in the dog-fighting ring led to his son being bullied at school, where kids “barked” at him and called him the “dog man’s son.”
“I feel like my sentence already has been handed down,” the 35-year-old Rock Island man said.
Jackson, who pleaded guilty to hosting a dog fight in his home in November 2014, was sentenced to time served, three years of supervised release and was ordered by Darrow to spend time in a halfway house.
The sentencing hearing began Thursday and continued Friday.
• Ryan M. Hickman, 43, of Rock Island, who pleaded June 13 to possessing dogs for participation in dog fighting, was sentenced to 30 months in prison and three years of supervised release.
• Andre Keywan Lidell, 41, of Rock Island, who pleaded guilty June 13 to sponsoring and exhibiting dogs in dog fighting, was sentenced to 20 months in prison and three years of supervised release.
• Simmeon Terrell Hall, 29, of Rock Island, who pleaded guilty May 22 to sponsoring and exhibiting dogs in dog fighting, was sentenced to 24 months in prison and three years of supervised release.
• Terrill Onterial McDuffy, 44, of Davenport, who pleaded guilty July 12 to conspiracy, was sentenced to one year and a day in prison and three years of supervised release.
• Jaquan Leontae Jones, 28, of Rock Island, who pleaded guilty May 18 to knowingly attending a dog fight, a misdemeanor, was sentenced to six months in prison, two of which will be spent in a halfway house, and one year of supervised release.
Sentencing for two of the men, Stantrel Vontrez Knight, 31, and Sherrick Cornelius Houston, 44, both of Rock Island, was continued until Tuesday.
The case against a 10th man, Algerron Lee Goldsmith, 47, of Rock Island, is pending. He is charged with conspiracy to sponsor/exhibit pit bulls in an animal fighting venture and possessing dogs for participation in dog fighting.
The men were indicted Jan. 24.
On April 14, 2016, investigators seized 64 pit bull-type dogs from 10 homes in Rock Island and one in Davenport as part of an investigation into a dog-fighting ring that began a year earlier through information developed by the Rock Island Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation Quad-Cities Federal Gang Task Force.
The seized dogs were placed into the custody of the American Society for the Prevention and Cruelty of Animals.
No dog-fighting charges were filed immediately following the seizures, but Hickman and Jackson were arrested on drug offenses.
Federal prosecutors on April 15, 2016, filed a civil complaint seeking forfeiture of the seized dogs. They said in the civil complaint that the dogs were involved in and used to commit or facilitate the dog-fighting venture.
The dogs have since been forfeited. More than half of them had to be euthanized because of behavioral or serious medical issues. Thirty were able to be adopted, FBI Special Agent Samantha Maxwell testified Thursday.
Assistant U.S. Attorney C. Ryan Finlen argued for lengthy sentences for the men Friday, saying that dog fighting is a “grotesque activity that grows over time.”
If the venture had not been broken up in April 2016, he said, it would have continued to grow.
Some of the men hosted dog fights in their homes, while others promoted dogs through a short-lived website.
Some dogs that didn't make the cut were killed, according to prosecutors.
Many of the dogs that were seized had scars and wounds indicative of organized dog fighting and several of the men had "paraphernalia" such as medical supplies, dog sporting magazines and treadmills in their homes.