A search for firearms this week led authorities to a dog fighting ring in the Columbia area where FBI agents found dogs with neck scars and other injuries consistent with an illegal operation.
With help from local and national animal welfare advocates, agents recovered 32 dogs during a Wednesday raid that landed three men in jail on suspicion of being felons in possession of a firearm or ammunition, according to FBI Supervisory Special Agent Donald Wood.
The FBI executed search warrants at three locations.
Along with the dogs, agents found equipment related to dog fighting, Wood said. It wasn't clear how long the dog fighting operation had been under way.
Staff from the Charleston Animal Society examined the dogs. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals transported them to a temporary shelter to receive medical and behavioral care. The dogs will remain there until a judge rules on their custody.
Animal Society CEO Joe Elmore said the North Charleston shelter sees dogs showing signs of being used in fights on a "semi-regular basis."
Where there's dog fighting, it's not uncommon to find other illegal activities, he said.
"There’s almost always drugs, weapons," he said. "It’s been documented that there’s a clear link between animal cruelty and human violence."
The ASPCA said dog fighting is a "popular underground activity" that's more prevalent than people think. The organization has deployed more than 20 responders to assist federal investigators.
Charging documents say authorities found four "pit bull-type" dogs with scarring and other injuries indicative of dog fighting at a home on Furwood Circle outside Columbia. The resident, Brooks Barcheen Gillie, told agents he cared for dogs behind the home but wasn't aware of dog fighting on the property.
Gillie was arrested as authorities seized ammunition and marijuana from the home. He was one of three convicted felons arrested in the case.
Authorities found another man, Dequan Anthonio Smith, asleep in a Dodge Charger parked outside Gillie's home. A loaded rifle was in the back seat.
Smith told authorities he didn't know who lived at the home but said he occasionally helped care for the dogs kept behind the house, the documents stated.
At a home on Rockyview Drive, agents arrested resident Tony Shuler after finding a pistol and ammunition under a mattress.
Additional ammunition was seized from other areas of the home, according to the FBI.