published Sunday, May 26th, 2013

TBI agents searching for drugs find evidence of dogfighting in Chattanooga

Law enforcement agents searching for drugs at this house on Talladega Road in Chattanooga on Friday found evidence of dogfighting in a shed behind the house. They arrested Jackie Marcellus Ward on drug charges but no charges have been filed related to dogfighting.
Staff photo by Tyler Jett
Law enforcement agents searching for drugs at this house on Talladega Road in Chattanooga on Friday found evidence of dogfighting in a shed behind the house. They arrested Jackie Marcellus Ward on drug charges but no charges have been filed related to dogfighting. Staff photo by Tyler Jett
6302 Talladega Ave.
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Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agents didn't expect to find evidence of dogfighting Friday at 6302 Talladega Ave.

They say they came looking for drugs, yet there it was, in a red shed behind a house in the Shepherd community. Metal rods for the dogs' mouths. A treadmill for the dogs' training. Carpet and paneling, stained with blood.

"All that is pretty classic dogfighting paraphernalia," said Karen Walsh, executive director of the McKamey Animal Care and Adoption Center.

Once the TBI discovered the alleged dogfighting site, they called Walsh to survey the scene.

It's a crime experts say is prevalent, but hard to find.

In her five years working in Chattanooga, Walsh said, she has never found an active location for the crime.

Law enforcement has found abandoned fighting rings, she said, but the trainers and gamblers are long gone. They're somewhere else in the city, just waiting to move their operation again.

On Friday, agents and officers from TBI and the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office came to the home of 43-year-old Jackie Marcellus Sawyer with a search warrant. They were looking for drugs, according to an arrest report, and Sawyer reached into a kitchen cabinet and pulled out 4 ounces of cocaine and 3 grams of marijuana.

Sawyer was charged with possession of a controlled substance, possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of drugs for resale. He was released from the Hamilton County Jail on a $20,000 bond and is scheduled to appear in front of General Sessions Judge Gary Starnes at 1:30 p.m. on June 17.

Sawyer has not been charged with any crime related to dogfighting, though Walsh said the center still is investigating the case.

The Animal Center found 12 dogs Friday: 11 pit bulls and a shepherd mix Walsh said was used as a "bait dog." Trainers use those dogs to test whether the pit bulls have proper fighting instincts, according to the ASPCA, an organization devoted to preventing animal cruelty.

Inside Sawyer's shed, where the fighting allegedly occurred, Walsh said investigators found metal rods, which often are used as "break sticks." When a fight has ended and one dog won't let go of the other, owners will slide the stick into the biting dog's mouth to force it off the opponent.

On Saturday, nobody answered the door at 6302 Talladega Ave. A call to Sawyer's listed number went to voicemail, which advised that the mailbox for a man called "Action Jackson" was full.

One neighbor across the street said she didn't want to discuss the crime allegations out of respect for Sawyer's wife. She is kind and works hard, the neighbor said.

Another neighbor, Tony Robinson, said he has met Sawyer in passing but had not heard of the allegations until Saturday. He never saw pit bulls there, though he never visited the house.

He often hears barking, he said. But that could be any dog.

"I've lived here for a couple years," said Robinson, 40. "I've never seen nobody fighting no dogs."

Contact Tyler Jett at tjett@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476.

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