ROGERSVILLE — A Knoxville man accused of training dogs to fight and cruelty to animals in Hawkins County this past November was acquitted on similar charges in Hamblen County in 2003.
Rogersville attorney Renfro “Buddy” Baird, who represented Charvez Nelson Francisco in his 2003 Hamblen County trial on charges including six counts of dog fighting, told the Times-News on Wednesday that Charvez will be acquitted on his Hawkins County charges as well.
Francisco, 50, 3820 Proffit Lane, Knoxville, appeared Wednesday in Hawkins County Sessions Court, where he waved his preliminary hearing on charges including four counts of misdemeanor cruelty to animals and one felony count of dog fighting.
Those charges will next be presented to the Hawkins County grand jury, and Francisco was ordered to appear in Hawkins County Criminal Court on Feb. 8.
On Nov. 17, firefighters battling a forest fire on Short Mountain west of Rogersville allegedly 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 wrote 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 look 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, police allegedly found a square wooden pen that is approximately 16 feet per side and four feet tall with the bottom carpeted. HCSO investigators allege that’s where the dogs were trained to fight.
The HCSO alleges that scars on some dogs are consistent with dog fighting. Chief Deputy Tony Allen said 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.
The rest of the dogs are being kept at humane societies in Hawkins, Hamblen, Washington and Jefferson counties.
Baird, who is also representing Francisco on his new charges, said he intends to put up a “vigorous” defense.
“At this stage, all people know is one side of the story, and when all the facts come out and all the witnesses are heard you’re going to see there’s another side of this that’s not been heard yet,” Baird told the Times-News after Francisco’s court appearance. “He was not fighting dogs or chickens. I can’t get into any further details, but we’re going to have witnesses, and we’re going to put on a vigorous defense and fight these charges.”
Francisco has petitioned the court to get his dogs back and was denied pending the outcome of this case.
Baird said Francisco is well known around Morristown as a former boxer, and he feels he was targeted by police because he owned pit bulls in the past.
“Just because someone has pit bulls doesn’t mean they are fighting them,” Baird said. “I know the beagles weren’t fighting dogs, and there were several other type dogs. He was found not guilty of all those charges in 2003 by a Hamblen County jury and cleared of everything, and we feel we’ve got a good case on this one too.”
Baird added, “He’s been harassed by some of these animal rights activists with threatening e-mails. I know some of them were in the courtroom today, and at least one of them made an obscene gesture to him in the courtroom.”
Francisco will remain free on his $10,000 bond.