Local News

Reed dog fighting trial held Friday

SEBRING - Asst. State Attorney Courtney Lenhart said Friday morning she would prove James Thomas Reed was guilty of three charges: attending a dog fight, animal cruelty, and resisting an officer.

Reed was at the dogfight, defense attorney Valerie Wright conceded, but she asserted the state is asking the jury to believe in guilt by association, Wright said, but the evidence won't show he was guilty of all three charges.

Lenhart called Sylvester David Sims Jr. to the stand. He owned the dogfighting ring at 4807 High Ave. in east Sebring, and testified that he got a phone call on the morning of Dec. 6, 2011. His friends wanted to test their dogs in an eight-by-eight-foot wide, U-shaped ring made of tractor tires.

Speaking so softly the three-man, three-woman jury couldn't hear, bailiffs had to bring over another microphone. Four of the jurors were white, two were black.

Reed and his brother, Ernest J. Reed, showed up two years ago, and the dogs fought for 15 to 20 minutes. After they hosed off the dogs, someone noticed Deputy Brett Hinkle standing on the other side of the fence.

James Reed was holding a black female dog, by either a chain or a collar, so high in the air, her feet weren't touching the ground, Hinkle testified. Contradicting the defense attorney, Hinkle said he knew Reed, that Reed and his brother were both wearing white T-shirts, and that James Reed was the only black male present with long hair.

Asked to identify Reed in the courtroom, Hinkle pointed to a man dressed in a dark gray suit with dreadlocks down to his mid-back.

When the dogfighters and watchers saw Hinkle, they dropped the dogs and scattered. Hinkle testified that he yelled, "Stop, police."

He arrested Corey Lee Love first, then Ernest Reed. Sims was hiding in an attic, and he was handcuffed too. Lastly, James Reed was found sitting on a neighbor's bed and arrested too.

Hinkle went back to the dog ring and found two animals with fresh wounds. They had fought so furiously, they had to be separated with a "break stick." When the owner can't stop a pit bull from biting down on another dog, Sims testified, "You can pop their mouths open with it."

Wright intimated Sims might be given a special deal, and he agreed, but he did not know the exact terms. A Nov. 25 court record showed he is charged with only one offense, littering.

He was previously charged with dogfighting, cruelty to animals, and resisting an officer. Sims said he ran because he was wanted on three previous arrest warrants. However, he also testified he had not changed his statement nor his testimony because of the plea arrangement.

Sims said he agreed to testify to keep his mother from being charged. Although his wife, Quandra Nicole Brown, was arrested, she was able to plead guilty on five charges, pay more than $3,000 in fines and court costs, and serve a four-year sentence on probation.

Under cross examination by Wright, Sims testified that Reed was there, but that he did not participate in the dogfight, and that Sims had never seen Reed train dogs for fighting. Sims owned treadmills, medications and other dogfighting paraphernalia. Reed owned more than two dozen dogs; most or all were pit bulls.

After the fight, Hinkle said the dogs were in just bad shape, they had to be taken to an animal hospital immediately. However, he snapped photos of each before they left, and identified the photos in court. At least one was later euthanized.

While he was booking the suspects, he noticed fresh blood on the shoes of James Reed, so he took the black shoes and white socks into evidence. They were shown to the jury.

The trial was expected to conclude Friday.