Six arrested for dogfights in Pennsylvania

Sunday, November 3, 2002

McKEESPORT, Pa. -- The bouts, police say, were staged in basements and warehouses. There were trainers, promoters, fight magazines and $50,000 bets. Fighters were pumped up with steroids, and electrocuted when injured badly.

State investigators made six arrests in what they call their biggest investigation of a dogfighting ring -- a racket that has allegedly sent pit bulls to their deaths in a high-stakes blood sport for the past five years.

The six suspects were arrested Friday in Allegheny, Bedford and Westmoreland counties. They were described as "midlevel" figures in the ring and charged with animal cruelty.

"This organization actively promoted dogfights between pit bull dogs for sport and for profit. Wagering on these fights ranged from $100 to $50,000," said state police Lt. George L. Bivens.

Among items seized in the arrests were guns, steroids, surgical instruments, underground dogfighting magazines and rigged power drills allegedly used to electrocute wounded dogs. Twenty-one dogs were rescued.

A photo album featured pit bulls with names like "Crazy," "Screwface," "Gizmo" and "Rampage." Accompanying a photo of "Rampage" was a note: "Lost 1 hour, 18 minutes."

According to arrest warrants, the six suspects each had different roles in the ring.

Richard Henderson, 49, allegedly organized and promoted fights.

Robert Cooper, 46, is suspected of handling entrance fees at his pet store.

Brothers Thomas Ackerman, 26, and Harry Ackerman Jr., 30, allegedly had at least nine pit bulls and a dogfighting pit at their home.

Prosecutors said Christopher Bryce, 28, who lived with the Ackermans, electrocuted a dog and buried it in a back yard. State police recovered a dead female pit bull in a trash bag.

Another suspect, 46-year-old Dale Shaw, had at least 10 pit bulls, two treadmills, dog medicine and dogfighting journals, prosecutors said.

The arrests warrants say the ring sold and trained pit bulls and had organized bouts in western and central Pennsylvania since May 1997. Police declined to comment on whether more arrests were expected.

"Typically what has happened in these cases is a hit-or-miss investigation. We pick up one dogfighter or maybe a couple of dogfighters attending one fight," said Donna McClellan, a state senior deputy attorney general.

Police said Henderson was apprehended after he sold steroids and modified electric drills to a state trooper. He also offered to sell the trooper two treadmills, a rubdown bench and other dog training equipment for $1,500, authorities said.

The Ackermans, Bryce and Henderson were being held in the Allegheny County jail Friday afternoon and could not be reached for comment. None of the men had attorneys, according to McKeesport District Justice Thomas Brietic.

Cooper, who was released on an unsecured bond, referred questions to his attorney, Ralph Karsh, who said his client is innocent.

"This is an overblown situation. There are no allegations he took part in fights, arranged fights or had been to a fight," Karsh said. "He owned a dog store and sold people pet supplies."

Shaw also was released on bail. His phone rang unanswered Friday afternoon.

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