Charvez Nelson Francisco, 50, 3820 Proffit Lane, Knoxville, did, however, plead guilty to four counts of animal cruelty Monday before Judge J. Todd Ross.
He was sentenced to two years probation, 96 hours of community service, a $200 fine, and ordered to pay $700 in restitution to the Hawkins County Humane Society for upkeep of the dogs.
All of the surviving dogs seized from Francisco were forfeited to the Humane Society, and Ross also issued an order prohibiting Francisco from possessing any other animals without the judge’s permission except for a family dog named Rex.
Prosecutors had told the Times-News prior to Monday’s hearing that without witnesses or more evidence the dog fighting case would be hard to prove in a trial.
Francisco was found not guilty by a jury on six counts of dog fighting in Hamblen County in 2003.
On Nov. 17, 2012 firefighters battling a forest fire on Short Mountain west of Rogersville found 21 dogs and 30 chickens on property belonging to Francisco at the end of Tater Hill Road.
With flames descending on that property, firefighters removed the dogs, but not before contacting police due to the dogs’ physical condition and the suspicious way they were being kept.
Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office Detective John Pruitt stated in the arrest warrant affidavit that the 21 dogs consisted of nine pit-bulls, eight puppies, one lab mix, one blue tick, one beagle and one terrier. Most of the pit bulls were allegedly attached to log chains anchored into the ground by vehicle axles.
At least four of the dogs looked malnourished, and five have healing scars on their face, ears, muzzle and throat, Pruitt said in the warrant. All but two of the pit bulls were chained, along with the blue tick, with logging chains — one of which had a two pound weight attached to the chain. All others except the male lab mix were confined in kennels including the two pit bulls.
A short distance from the kennels officers allegedly found a square wooden pen that is approximately 16 feet per side and four feet tall with the bottom carpeted. HCSO investigators alleged that’s where the dogs were trained to fight.
The HCSO also alleged that scars on some dogs are consistent with dog fighting, and that the dogs were not aggressive toward humans but are aggressive toward each other.
One of the dogs had to be put to sleep shortly after being rescued. Hawkins County Humane Society assistant manager Sandy Behnke said two others were later put to sleep due to health problems.
Behnke said there’s no doubt in her mind that the pit bulls were trained to fight.
“These dogs are aggressive to one another,” Behnke said. “None of these dogs can be with another dog. We have to keep them separated, and there has to be a space between them. they’ll attack any dog. They were fought for sure.”
But, short of a conviction for dog fighting, Behnke said the conditions placed against Francisco by the court were what the Humane Society was asking for.
The Humane Society currently has five of the dogs, and the rest have been scattered around to other agencies which don’t want to be identified. Behnke said the dogs still kept in Hawkins County are too aggressive to be pets.
“The pit bulls can never be put up for adoption, and we’re working some rescues to get them sent to a rehabilitation sanctuary,” Behnke said. “They will stay there the rest of their lives because they can never be around another dog. They’re great with humans, but dog aggressive.”
Behnke added, “I’m satisfied with the court’s ruling. as long as he can’t have these dogs back, they have a chance now.”