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MONROE -- Four "pit bulls" seized March 6 in a dog-fighting operation in Raisinville Township will remain with two private animal organizations until a Monroe County District Court judge can decide whether the groups can intervene in the case.
The tug of war between the Monroe County Prosecutor's Office and the two entities -- the Buster Foundation and the Monroe Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals -- over the custody of the dogs moved Wednesday to Circuit Court.
In ruling on an appeal from prosecutors, Chief Circuit Judge Michael LaBeau said visiting Judge John Collins exceeded his authority by allowing the dog advocate groups to enter into the civil case as a third party and by handing over the animals to the organizations.
Judge LaBeau sent the case back to District Court. He said Tracy Thomas, an attorney who represents the Buster Foundation of Belleville, Mich., and the Monroe cruelty prevention society, could file the necessary motions asking to get involved.
Any decisions on whether the groups have standing in the case and if the dogs should remain with the rescue groups or be returned to the county would be in the hands of the district judge, he said.
Michael Brown, an assistant county prosecutor, appealed Judge Collins' May 9 decision to turn the dogs over to the two groups. The visiting judge subsequently stepped down after Mr. Brown said he should be disqualified because he was biased in favor of the animal advocates.
Buster Foundation, which is a "pit bull" rescue group, and the Monroe society went to Judge Collins seeking custody of the dogs after two of the animals were injured at the sheriff's Animal Control shelter, where they had been taken after deputies raided a home on Ida Maybee Road.
While ruling that Judge Collins had clearly erred, Judge LaBeau rejected Mr. Brown's concerns that the county could be held civilly and criminally liable if the dogs harm or kill someone.
"That argument is disingenuous. The only way you can be held liable is if you are the owner of the dogs or the possessor of the dogs," Judge LaBeau said. "I think the argument that the county can be held liable is just off the wall. I don't see that."
Trina Stillwagon, director of the Monroe society, said the injured dogs are recuperating and all four are thriving under the care of volunteers who belong to the groups.
"The dogs are doing really well. They like the attention that we are giving them," she said. "All four are calm and laid back. They are very responsive dogs. They like human attention and they actually like other dogs."
The dogs were among the "pit bulls" found on the property after a raid that resulted in 27 people being charged with either attending a dog fight or participating in a dog fight.
Two dogs that were fighting in what was billed as a championship match died shortly after the raid, and another animal taken from the property also died.
Kevin Forbes of Detroit is the only defendant to enter a plea. He pleaded guilty to participating in a dog fight and is to be sentenced next month.
Mr. Brown, who represents Sheriff Tilman Crutchfield, has maintained that the dogs are dangerous and should be destroyed because they are threats to public safety.
He argued to Judge Collins during a hearing on April 27 that the animals lack useful purpose and pose a threat to community safety.
"The sheriff's office still believes these dogs are a danger to the public," he said after the hearing. "The ultimate concern is still the safety of the public."
Mr. Thomas said he plans to file a motion seeking permission to enter into the case, probably before the end of the week.
The request is to be heard by Judge Jack Vitale.
"All we are asking is for the district court judge to give us a fair hearing," Mr. Thomas said.
Contact Mark Reiter at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6199.