|Five-year probation for fighting pit bulls|
|The Press - News|
|Written by Joel Addington|
|Thursday, 05 May 2011 09:53|
Cletus Gaskins, the man found by police at the scene of a dog fight in north Sanderson last year with blood on his clothes and a mutilated dog in his truck, was sentenced to five years’ probation the afternoon of April 22 by Circuit Judge Phyllis Rosier.
About a dozen animal rescue and pit bull advocates from the Gainesville area picketed for two hours outside the courthouse with signs urging jail time for the Gaskins Circle resident and his co-defendant Omar Aldridge of Starke.
Both pleaded no contest in March to a pair of third-degree felonies: dog fighting and animal cruelty.
Mr. Aldridge, who also faced a child abuse charge for fleeing the dog fighting scene on Circle G Lane without his then 4-year-old son, withdrew his plea minutes before being sentenced.
Judge Rosier attached a host of conditions to Mr. Gaskins’ probation sentence.
The warehouse supervisor cannot possess any animals or have contact with Mr. Aldridge. He must do 100 hours of community service, including 25 hours speaking to high school students, “helping them understand the type of circumstances in which dog fighting can occur,” the judge said.
Mr. Gaskins was ordered to testify truthfully against his co-defendant and pay up to $5440 in restitution plus court costs. Depending on the outcome of Mr. Aldridge’s case, the restitution may be shared between the two men.
The punishment did not fit the crime, according to Michelle Dunlap, the volunteer director of Phoenix Animal Rescue in Gainesville and a professional dog trainer. She adopted out two of the 13 pit bulls confiscated from the Saturday night dog fight broken up by sheriff’s deputies on April 3, 2010.
They were the only dogs to escape euthanasia because they didn’t pose a risk to public safety. One was a puppy and the other a frequently bred female.
“It’s not just about dogs and dog fighting,” said Ms. Dunlap. “It’s about perpetuating violence, and that violence can be directed towards people too.”
More than 40 letters from around the country landed on Judge Rosier’s desk before last week’s hearing, almost all of them calling for “aggressive and meaningful” sentences for the accused.
But one letter asked for a punishment that would bring about “an awakening to open these guys’ eyes to where they won’t think of a dog as just an animal,” wrote Sharon Allen of Florence, AL.
Assistant State Attorney Geoffrey Fleck wanted a stiffer penalty as well, given the spread of dog fighting in recent years and the criminal activities associated with dog fighting like gambling, drug use and violence. “You’re talking about a system that inflicts unnecessary pain on sentient creatures,” said Mr. Fleck, who has experience helping to prosecute dog fighting cases nationwide.
He cited the profitability of dog fighting, saying that a winning dog can fetch more than $40,000 and its offspring more than $20,000, and that ten, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars change hands at a single event.
“I believe people who commit this crime should go to prison. Not jail, prison,” Mr. Fleck told the judge.
The assistant state attorney recommended a sentence of 364 days in prison and nine years of probation.
Mr. Gaskins’ attorney, Douglas Massey, asked for one year of probation and community service. He said the state’s case against his client was based on speculation and that there was no hard evidence that dog fighting took place.
Mr. Massey is a public defender assigned to cases when others have a conflict.
Officers that night found 13 chained-up dogs at the scene, trails of blood, antibiotics, syringes and a makeshift ring with a light over it, powered by an extension cord leading to a nearby residence. They found Mr. Gaskins with blood on his clothes, a dog whose front legs and neck were “torn apart,” as Mr. Fleck put it, in his truck along with a 9 mm handgun.
When asked at the scene by Deputy Larry Clark why he had blood on his clothes, Mr. Gaskins reportedly said he had been breeding his dog, which got loose and got into a fight, and that he knew nothing else. The officer also noted that people in the nearby home were “extremely uncooperative and rude.”
Mr. Gaskins, a husband and father of two, recounted a similar version of events last week after the hearing. He said he’d been on vacation and left his dog at the Circle G Lane address for breeding. He contends he arrived just before police did.
“It was a tough sentence to me,” Mr. Gaskins, 38, said. “I did leave an animal there. That’s my fault. I was wrong for leaving the animal there. I wasn’t wrong for what happened that night. If [dog fighting] is what happened that night, I had nothing to do with that.”
The handgun in Mr. Gaskins truck and testimony about the behavior of the two rescued dogs during the last year were excluded by Judge Rosier as evidence in the case. Before passing sentence, the judge recited the facts before the court.
“The defendant was found at the scene with blood on himself and a trail of blood to his truck and a badly wounded dog in the truck,” she said. “I’d be shocked for anybody to be at this scene ... It was ugly.”
Mr. Gaskins’ co-defendant, Omar Aldridge, withdrew his plea agreement at last week’s hearing, telling the judge he didn’t fully understand it when he signed it. His next hearing is June 28.
|Last Updated on Thursday, 05 May 2011 13:15|