Panola County dogfighting ring busted

TYLER, TX -   U.S. Attorney John M. Bales announced today that this morning a combined task force of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies arrested 8 individuals charged with involvement in an interstate dog fighting ring.

On July 8, 2009, agents and officers executed a federal arrest warrant in Panola County, Texas, and Gregg County, Texas.  Nine dogs, mostly pit bull terriers, were seized during a search of property in rural Panola County.  A licensed veterinarian was on-site to examine and provide any necessary care to the dogs.  Also on-site were representatives of the Humane Society of the United States, who have been consulted during the investigation.

Those named in the Indictment, which was unsealed this morning, are KARL S. COURTNEY, aka Shane, 34, of Beckville, Texas; JERRY S. CHISM, aka Scotty, 34, of Longview, Texas; JERRY L. BEENE, age 69, of Hampton, Arkansas; JERRY L. MATLOCK, 57, of Stilwell, Oklahoma; CHASE M. COURTNEY, 26, of Carthage, Texas; DEVIN L. PELZL, 29, of Beckville, Texas; MICHAEL L. BEENE, 36, of Hampton, Arkansas; HAROLD D. STEWART, 41, of Beckville, Texas; and CHAD A. COURTNEY, 30, of Carthage, Texas.

On June 30, 2009, a federal grand jury returned a 3-count Indictment charging the 9 defendants with (1) conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States; (2) sponsoring or exhibiting an animal in an animal fighting venture; and (3) buying, selling, delivering or transporting animals for participation in an animal fighting venture.  If convicted, the defendants each face up to 5 years in federal prison and fines of up to $250,000.

U.S. Attorney Bales noted that today's arrests represent a significant step in addressing what Bales described as completely reprehensible criminal activity.  "I commend the agents and officers who have worked very hard on this investigation.  In due time, we look forward to presenting all of the evidence that they have collected in federal court.  I also appreciate the significant investigative assistance provided by the Humane Society. "

The U.S. Attorney also filed motions seeking to take legal ownership of the dogs and place the animals in the care and custody of the Humane Society.  Under federal law, the government can forfeit any animals engaged in any animal fighting venture.  Additionally, the U.S. Attorney is seeking a court order requiring the defendants to reimburse the Humane Society for all costs incurred for care of the animals while the animals are in the custody of the Humane Society.

The Indictment resulted from an investigation which began in October 2008, and was launched by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General (USDA-OIG), the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the Texas Department of Public Safety.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard L. Moore is prosecuting the case in coordination with U.S. Attorney's Offices in the Eastern District of Oklahoma and Western and Eastern Districts of Missouri.

A grand jury indictment is not evidence of guilt.  All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

News Release from U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Texas