SEBRING - Jury selection is set at 8:30 a.m. Monday for James Thomas Reed, one of five defendants busted two years ago in a dogfighting ring at 4807 High Ave.
Reed is charged with attending an animal fighting event, cruelty to animals and resisting or obstructing an officer without violence. He will appear before Circuit Court Judge William Sites. Assistant State Attorney Courtney Lenhart is prosecuting the case; Valerie Wright is defending Reed.
Reed is also appearing on 10 counts of cruelty to animals and 27 counts of selling, possessing and using animals to fight or bait.
On Dec. 6, 2011, Highlands County Deputy Bret Hinkle investigated a complaint and observed a dogfighting ring made of tires stacked about 4 feet high.
Three participants scattered when they saw Hinkle. He later arrested Reed, Ernest J. Reed, Sylvester Sims, Quandra Brown-Sims, and Corey Lee Love, all of Sebring.
Investigators found syringes, wound medicine, a medical staple gun and other animal medicines, according to a sheriff's report. Authorities found two treadmills, both covered with animal hair, feces and urine, which forced the dogs to run for exercise. A wooden box with an open floor indicated the dogs were being trained for fighting, a subsequent deputy's report said.
Fifteen dogs were seized that night and 29 later. In January 2012, sheriff's attorney Mike Durham proved to County Judge Anthony Ritenour that the five defendants, plus Calvin Lewis and Ogene Wallace of Sebring, and Marcus Sanders of Clewiston, could not adequately provide for and were not fit to have custody of the dogs.
Some of the pit bulls were injured; others were "bait dogs, used to test another dog's fighting instinct," the report stated, adding that bait "are often mauled or killed in the process."
Most of the dogs were moved to Highlands County or Polk County Animal Control shelters. Some were put down because they were in such bad shape, others were adopted through a pit bull rescue group near Orlando. Highlands residents donated about $5,000 for future care of the dogs.
James Reed filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the middle district of Florida against the two Florida sheriffs and then Assistant State Attorney Pete Barone. Reed represented himself and alleged the "State of Florida has deprived (him) of his constitutional right to merely possess and sell pit bulls, perfectly legal activities ..."
Federal Judge James S. Moody Jr. dismissed the case. According to a footnote on page one of the dismissal order: "Although Reed is labeled as plaintiff on the docket, he is actually the defendant in this action because he seeks to have the State of Florida's criminal prosecution against him removed to federal court, not allege new claims in federal court."
Moody found that Reed did not prove his civil rights were violated "because he fails to show he has been denied those rights in state court." His case was remanded back to the state court.
Reed also tried to represent himself in Highlands County, but Circuit Court Judge Angela Cowden insisted that Reed wasn't indigent and that he hire an attorney.
Ernest J. Reed was charged with cruelty to animals; selling, possessing and using animals to fight or bait; attending an animal fighting event; and resisting or obstructing an officer without violence. He is to appear before Judge Sites on Dec. 18 to determine when he will be ready for trial.
Corey Lee Love, accused of six counts of possessing fighting animals and cruelty to animals, is also scheduled to appear before Judge Sites on Dec. 18 for a pre-trial conference.
A fourth defendant, Sylvester David Sims Jr., was found in the attic of his home. Sims stated in the report that he was sleeping and did not know what was going on. Sims added he was hiding because of active warrants for his arrest. He is to appear in court on Jan. 6.
Quandra Nicole Brown-Sims, 29, of 4807 High Ave., was arrested a week later. She negotiated a no-contest plea to five counts of cruelty to animals and selling, and possessing or using an animal to fight or bait. Cowden required Brown-Sims to serve four years probation, complete 50 hours of community service, pay $3,258 in fines and court costs, and not own pit bulls while on probation.