Columbia police name four suspects in dog thefts

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WACH) -- Update: Dezmon Jones turned himself in this afternoon.Police have arrested two teenagers suspected of stealing pit bulls from the Columbia animal shelter.

Police said Monday they arrested 17-year-old Raven Perry and a 13-year-old over the weekend. Investigators say they caught the pair in the act during a burglary attempt at the shelter near Interstate 77 Sunday night. Authorities eventually released the 13-year-old to his family. The teens are from Blackville.

Police are still looking for two more young men, Dezmon Jones, 25, of Denmark, and another 13-year-old.

Sunday's break-in attempt capped the third straight weekend of burglaries at the shelter. However, thanks to a newly installed security camera, police say they have photos of the most recent heist on Saturday. Po

lice say Perry and the other teen were caught Sunday trying to break in again.

"They were very specific, they were very determined. They knew why they were going there," said Chief Randy Scott of the Columbia Police Department. "We're happy that we were able to make an arrest. But, I think we're more ecstatic we were able to get the dogs back and recover the animals so they wouldn't be killed."

Investigators say the suspected thieves went to great lengths, cutting through fences, and taking the same route into the shelter each time.

After the arrests, police and animal control officers say they went to Bamberg County, where they found 17 dogs on some property there. The animals are being examined, but police say they only have minor injuries, and most are in good health. Authorities recovered a pregnant pit bull stolen from the shelter, however, not all of the recovered animals belong to the shelter. Police are still trying to locate the others.

More than a dozen pit bulls have been taken from the shelter since Jan. 29.

They are investigating the thefts as a possible dogfighting ring.

"What I can attest to and say that I know right now is they were using them probably in a fighting situation," said Scott. "I don't know if they were selling them."

Police say the dogs bring in a hefty price on the illegal dog-fighting black market, but are still looking into exactly how the dogs were being used.

The Columbia animal shelter works with animal rescue programs and it's possible that once the animals are evaluated further they may be available for adoption.

Despite the fact criminals value pit bulls for their aggressive tendencies when trained to fight, both Scott and Marli Drum of Columbia Animal Services say the dogs' image as vicious killers is unfair.

"They're extremely loyal dogs, they can make wonderful pets," said Drum. "People need to know what kind of breed they're getting, any kind of breed, whether it's a poodle or a pit bull, and whether or not they fit into their lifestyle."

City officials say residents were extremely concerned about the thefts and peppered police and city leaders with emails and phone calls about security at the animal shelter. On Monday, Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin and Chief Randy Scott assured the public the facility is very secure and that it has only been enhanced with the additon of the new security cameras.

Columbia security specialist Carey Shealy of Statewide Security Systems donated the cameras that ultimately caught the images of the most recent break-in at the shelter on Saturday.

Police are urging anyone who knows anything about the string of dog thefts or the whereabouts of Dezmon Jones to call CrimeStoppers at 1-888-CRIME-SC. All calls remain anonymous and there is a possible cash reward for information linked to the crimes.