Here's yet another example of the publicity fed "dogfighting" hysteria. it's ridiculous that in america people have to prove themselves innocent rather than authorities proving their guilt. it's quite a sick and twisted parody of justice and another stain on the reputation of a once great, just and moral nation.
A dog lover, not a fighter
You might recall Rob Sheahart, the ex-con accused last summer of running a dogfighting outfit called Dead Game Kennels. He's the luckless fellow who got indicted on dogfighting charges smack-dab in the middle of the national uproar over the Michael Vick case.
But unlike Vick, the suspended pro quarterback now serving time at Leavenworth for bankrolling a dogfighting outfit, Sheahart never fought his dogs. As it happens, he was a licensed pit bull breeder who deplored dogfighting, treated his animals like family and has veterinary records to back him up.
Five months after charging Sheahart and his wife with dogfighting and other crimes, the Multnomah County district attorney's office quietly dismissed all the dogfighting charges.
Papers filed by police and prosecutors last summer describe Robert Lee Sheahart, 39, as a suspected gang member, dogfighter, negligent grandparent, pot peddler and the owner of a pearl-handled .45-caliber pistol.
"I may be some of those things," Sheahart said, "but I am definitely not a dogfighter and never have been."
Sheahart knows he's a rough-looking hombre. He's got a shaved head, a mural of tats, braided chin-whiskers and a teardrop tattoo under his right eye to remember a friend shot dead in Phoenix.
Here's what he acknowledges: Last July, he sold marijuana to a friend who turned out to be a police snitch.
On Aug. 1, at 4:40 a.m., police came to his home on a North Portland cul-de-sac with a search warrant. They turned his place inside out, finding almost a pound of marijuana, several cannabis plants and the .45.
A county Animal Services officer, Michelle Luckey, joined the search, seizing seven adult pit bulls and four puppies.
A report on the raid details alleged evidence of dogfighting: The animals had "severely cropped ears" to prevent bleeding during a match; some dogs appeared to be scarred; the property yielded "breaking sticks" used to unclamp jaws and a "spring rope" device that dogs leap and grab with their teeth, which strengthens their necks.
Sheahart concedes such evidence might be confused as dogfighting gear. But he said he was conditioning his dogs for legitimate competitions -- such as weight pulling, conformation and sled pulling -- sponsored by organizations such as the American Dog Breeders Association. Sheahart said his dogs have won more than a dozen trophies.
Also troubling to investigators was the mural on Sheahart's 1964 Chevy Impala lowrider. It depicts gangsters betting on a dogfight with the name of his breeding business: Dead Game Kennels.
Sheahart said this art, created by a Los Angeles muralist, was not meant to imitate his life; it was merely an artist's rendition of life on the street. "Dead game," he explained, is a slang term for toughness.
"Very good" care
In their report, investigators said they found a photo in Sheahart's house depicting a dog with "a serious head wound that appeared to be sutured up haphazardly, obviously not by anyone with veterinary training."
The veterinarian who performed that surgery, Dr. Sonny Randhawa, took umbrage. When investigators went to his St. John's practice saying Sheahart must have sewed up his own dog, Randhawa pulled records showing he did the work.
"I stopped them dead in their tracks," he said.
Randhawa eventually turned over 10 years of veterinary records that demonstrate what he describes as the "very good" care Sheahart gave his dogs.
Sheahart didn't learn of the dogfighting charges until he and Cynthia Jimenez, then his longtime girlfriend, were jailed. The couple were stunned by allegations they fought their 11 dogs and possessed dogfighting paraphernalia.
Jimenez, who recently married Sheahart, took responsibility for the seized pot and got three years of probation for growing marijuana and child endangerment.
Sheahart breeds his dogs and sells the puppies for up to $2,000 apiece. The adult animals are family pets. He said his wife, children and grandchildren -- all living under one roof -- abhor dogfighting as much as he does.
"If they knew I even had anything remotely to do with that, my own children wouldn't even want to be around me," he said.
The prosecution's dogfighting case took a major hit six weeks after Sheahart's bust, when an expert, veterinarian Charlotte J. Robinson, studied photos of the dogs. Robinson concluded the animals hadn't suffered recent injuries and weren't aggressive enough to be fighting dogs.
The case dragged on until January before Deputy District Attorney Heidi Moawad -- balancing Robinson's findings against what she called a strong circumstantial case -- dropped charges against Sheahart. In the end, she said, there was "no direct evidence" linking him to dogfighting.
Moawad referred one of Sheahart's charges -- felon in possession of a firearm -- to federal prosecutors. Late last month, he pleaded guilty to the crime in U.S. District Court and awaits sentencing.
Fight for dogs' return
Sheahart's rap sheet dates to the late 1980s. He said he was a "hothead" who carried a gun, once shot up some unoccupied cars in a family dispute, and faced charges of carrying a concealed weapon. He served a prison stretch for that crime between 1992 and 1994.
Sheahart said the most painful part of his legal saga came last August, when he phoned home from jail and learned FBI agents had just exhumed his beloved dog Loc from a backyard grave. They bagged the carcass and hauled it off to help police find evidence of dogfighting.
"That was real upsetting," Sheahart said last week, his eyes moist, voice box tight. " 'Cause he was a real close friend."
After making bail last August, Sheahart tried to get the county animal shelter to return his pit bulls. He was put off again and again. Finally, in a letter dated Jan. 23, the county said Sheahart could redeem his dogs by paying $30,130 in impound, boarding and veterinary fees. Failure to pay put the dogs at risk of being euthanized.
Sheahart's attorney threatened to sue the county for malicious prosecution and civil rights violations. Days later, the county agreed to give back the dogs free of charge if Sheahart promised not to sue, and he did.
Now it's Sheahart's wife, Jimenez, who's in a pickle.
Her probation officer recently warned her that keeping "dangerous dogs" violated terms of her probation. Robb Cowie, a spokesman for the county's Department of Community Justice, said Jimenez has been given until today to move the pit bulls or herself from the premises.
Jimenez isn't budging.