A cell block attendant was convicted Wednesday in a dogfighting case that helped spawn a larger investigation into the cruel sport in Buffalo and Erie County.
A State Supreme Court jury found Shanon Richardson, 35, guilty of three felony counts of animal fighting and training fighting dogs, plus three misdemeanors involving mistreating his dogs and possessing dog-fighting paraphernalia.
Shortly after the verdict was returned, Buffalo police officials said Richardson would be fired from his job with the department. He has been on suspension since his arrest on Dec. 7, 2013. That was when police officers, responding to a call about an intruder at Richardson’s Erb Street home, instead found four malnourished pit-bull-mix dogs, two adults and two puppies; animal treadmills; break sticks and weights.
One of the dogs had gotten out of the basement and was on the first floor of the house; Richardson’s wife, upstairs and alone, reportedly mistook the sounds for a burglar and made the call for help.
One of the dogs, found in a feces-filled cage in the basement, was severely scarred on its face and head; the other adult dog was roaming the house. With temperatures in the 20s, one puppy was chained to an open dog house in the yard, another was in a dog house in the garage.
The saga of the dogs did not end with a victorious rescue.
The animals were confiscated, but on Jan. 6, 2014, one of the dogs, Rochelle, disappeared from the Buffalo Animal Shelter. Although there was a reward posted for her return and an animal-rescue group reported at one point that she had been found, the dog was never returned.
Another of Richardson’s dogs, Tiki – the dog whose escape from its cage led to the burglary call – bit a shelter employee in July 2014 and was euthanized in September.
The loss of the dogs also dealt a blow to the prosecution. Justice Christopher J. Burns issued a ruling in February that prosecutors failed to make sure the evidence, in this case the dogs, was properly secured and preserved. Burns ordered that, to keep both sides of the case on equal footing, no evidence from direct physical examination of the dogs could be used.
But for the jury this week, photographs of the dogs’ injuries and the testimony of veterinary experts who examined them were enough.
The panel discounted Richardson’s contention that he was breeding the dogs for show and that he had the treadmills because his long work hours gave him little time to walk the dogs. It also did not accept that one of the dogs’ injuries could have come from a fight with a cat that one neighbor testified as having seen.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant District Attorneys Justin T. Wallens and Ashley M. Morgan.
The felony convictions carry a possible penalty of up to four years and a fine of up to $25,000. Burns set sentencing for Aug. 25.
After Richardson’s arrest and the disappearance of his dog from the animal shelter, the District Attorney’s Office revived its Anti-Dogfighting Task Force.
Among those arrested in a subsequent crackdown in spring 2014 was Edward “Boo” Bishop, who appeared in Erie County Court earlier this week for an evidentiary hearing.
Judge Thomas P. Franczyk granted a defense motion to suppress some of the evidence in the case, which involves seven pit-bull-mix dogs confiscated in April 2014 at Bishop’s Hewitt Street home. Bishop faces multiple felony counts involving animal fighting and returns to court Aug. 7.
Also, in Buffalo City Court this week, a judge split co-defendants in a recent animal abuse case into separate cases. Amy E. Backert and Martinez Johnson are awaiting arraignment after the SPCA Serving Erie County responded to an anonymous tip in June that the two allegedly were allowing one of their dogs to attack another. SPCA animal cruelty investigators responded and the couple surrendered a Doberman pinscher named Diamond, who reportedly was emaciated and had infected, open wounds, including an ear that had been partly ripped off.
SPCA spokeswoman Gina Browning said Wednesday that Diamond’s treatment also could be part of organized animal fighting.
“We know that the way these animals are trained is by using other animals as ‘bait,’ ” Browning said.