May 28, 2016 was a very big news day for this midwestern capital city. All the local news stations got tipped by the Metro Police Media Officer to come to such and such an address immediately following a multi-force SWAT takedown of a major dog-trafficking ring. In a well-coordinated, predawn strike, with federal agents (Dept. of Agriculture) in the lead, and involving FBI, state and local SWAT teams, Darius Payton, his wife, son and daughter, were apprehended without incident as were three others in the ring, who each lived within a five mile radius from the Payton home. Neighbors reported that an armored vehicle, that appeared to be a small tank, was also seen at the end of Payton’s street.
In all, twelve adults were apprehended, as were approximately 40 Pit Bulls, some cash and assorted guns.
So might the newspaper have reported the next day.
As Paul Harvey used to say, “And now for the rest of the story.”
Darius tells me that he has had a passion for pit bulls for over 30 years. He is an expert on Pit Bulls. He had over 500 books and magazines about them. He wrote regularly about them for a magazine subscribed to by Pit Bull owners and fans of the breed.
Pit Bulls were bred centuries ago as tough, gritty service dogs used by herdsman to control bulls. Today they are loved by rural and urban dog owners alike, as good guard dogs but also as affectionate and companionable pets. It is estimated that Pit Bulls make up 45% of canine pets in urban populations.
There was a time, over twenty years ago, when Darius was involved with dog fighting, which has been outlawed (misdemeanor) for over 40 yrs by the laws of his state, and over 10 yrs ago federally (felony). He escaped the authorities then, but, leaving dog fighting behind, has continued in his love of the animal (7 of the 8 taken from him were his pets, 1 was his son’s)- researching them, writing articles and maintaining his friendship with other Pit Bull owners.
Several weeks before the SWAT teams’ invasion and arrest of the so-called “ring”, Darius’s friend asked if he had a dog for sale. He was asking for an acquaintance of his from out-of-state. Darius said he didn’t, but after checking with a friend, called back to say there was a small, adult male for sale. A time was arranged for the buyer and sellers to meet.
Two guys came to Darius’s house and his buddy brought the 15 lb. dog there.The price was agreed on and the sale was made. The dog had papers to be transferred to the new dog owners, the dog to the new owners, but they didn’t want them.
As it is now known, one of the two was a Dept. of Agriculture undercover agent. The other was an informer, in trouble with the feds for some crime, who was promised some sort of reward for “cooperation”. It must be that knowledge of someone in the Pit Bull community was of significant enough interest to the feds to mount a “sting” operation.
Darius remembers now some suspicious behavior on the part of the agent, who had an audio recording device, which he thinks was built into the man’s eyeglasses. It seems likely that his obliviousness to their entrapping behavior is evidence that he wasn’t engaged in what he knew to be illegal- selling an animal for fighting purposes. Darius says nothing about fighting was ever mentioned. The recording of the conversation was later said by the authorities to contain that element. Darius was never allowed to hear the recording; his co-seller did hear it, and told Darius it was mostly inaudible.
To know anything about Pit Bull fighting is to know that dogs used for this are the largest of the species, weighing approximately 35-42 lbs. The dog they sold that day was a mature dog weighing 15 lbs. It was not going to grow any larger.
Further evidence used against him was that his dogs were on heavy-chains. The gov’t witness said this proves they were raised for fighting purposes, because the practice results in sronger necks.
Darius says there were no physical marks of any kind on his dogs to indicate they were fighters. Furthermore, heavy chains for Pit Bulls are commonplace simply because when you have multiple Pit Bulls, as he did, its natural that one might have a fighting response toward another, and being powerful animals, are capable of breaking lighter chains; plus a heavier chain makes an aggressive dog slightly less dangerous.
A sidenot occurs to me. Darius, my fellow inmate, is a former college athlete. Now in his 50s, he is still in great shape. He is built like a small tank, and rises well before dawn each day to workout. He tells me he is close to his goal of 1,000 pushups in his morning workout. The gov’t witness testified that heavy chains makes strong necks. What’s wrong with Darius wanting his dogs to have strong necks, to be in peak physical shape, as he is. He says he walks them every day, too.
Another personal observation. Darius is the calmest guy I know here. I think that demeanor is born of strength. He is a devout adherent of his brand of Christianity. I have heard him engaged in “arguments” about his beliefs. His voice is always the calmest.
Darius is the human equivalent of a docile Pit Bull.
The day of the invasion of his home by near quasi-military forces, Darius was in the shower, his two kids were asleep, and his wife was just beginning her day. She suffers from Lupus, and hadn’t yet taken her medicine. All family members were handcuffed. It was 7 hrs befoe hers were taken off. Darius overheard the Metro Police detective saying that neither she nor the kids were supposed to be cuffed.
Their house was torn apart. The front door was busted. His wife’s computer was taken. So were the kids’. (The son’s computer never worked right again.) Darius had an extensive collection of CD’s containing religious sermons. Those were taken, as were all of his dog books.
Darius’s wife and kids were released late that day. Darius and the others charged with being part of the “conspiracy” were each released on $45,000 bond.
As soon as Darius’s family had put their home back in order, and Darius had lawyered up, he turned his attention to getting his dogs back. He went to court to secure their release back to him. He was refused and told that they were in the custody of the humane society, and he had two choices. One, turn ownership of the dogs over to the humane society, or two, pay the court $10,000/mth to care for the dogs until the charges against him were cleared.
Darius says that the Dept of Ag.’s actions in these matters is driven by the humane society. Their long-term goal, he says, is to do away with any human use of animals.
Darius could find no reason to think that he could successfully defend himself against these charges, especially since they believed him to be the ‘leader’ of the ‘conspiracy’. The odds of anyone in his shoes would have been against prevailing against the gov’t, but with a prior record- a drug felony from his 20’s- there was no way he could win.
The federal prosecutor said that if he took the plea deal, they wouldn’t charge his wife. Darius had used her computer to email a scanned copy of a dog’s certification one time, to someone in another state. He knew the feds could build a huge charge against his wife from just that one email.
He was given 6 months in a federal prison camp, 90 days home confinement, and 3 yrs probation.