ST. JOHN | When police raided a St. John home last year, they found five American pit bull terriers, a bloody pillow on top of a cage and handwritten directions for what detectives said was grooming for dogfighting.
Robert Harper, 43, was charged Monday with promoting an animal-fighting contest, purchasing or possessing an animal for fighting and possession of animal-fighting paraphernalia.
Rachel A. Sanders, 28, of Gary, is facing charges of assisting a criminal and obstruction of justice.
Lake County authorities began investigating Harper on Dec. 16 after several police agencies searched his home in the 8800 block of Schafer Drive in St. John in an unrelated criminal case.
Officers found at his home paraphernalia associated with dogfighting such as veterinary drugs and documents detailing how to train dogs for fights, according to the affidavit. Harper's wife, Qiana Harper, relinquished five American pit bull terriers to the Lake County sheriff's department.
Qiana Harper told police she was scared of the dogs, and her husband was the one who trained them.
Detectives also recovered a pillow containing a large amount of substance, which later tested positive for dog blood.
One of the dogs, Capone/Argo, had scratches on his face and forelegs, which could have been caused by other animals or by him trying to dig out of an enclosure, according to court records. Detectives found the dog on a tow chain and was not housed in an enclosure.
Employees at Lake County Animal Control believe Capone/Argo is partially if not completely deaf, and he had to be housed separately because of his aggression toward other dogs.
Within days of the search of the St. John home, Sanders contacted the detective on the case asking if she could have Capone/Argo and another dog seized by police.
According to the affidavit, Sanders allegedly said through phone and email conversations that she purchased the dog online and had then sent it to Harper, who she believed to be a Schutzhund trainer, because the dog had been attacked by coyotes.
The Lake County detective listened to phone calls Harper was making while housed at Cook County Jail pending criminal charges there. In several of the phone conversations, Harper tells Sanders what to tell the detective while trying to get the dogs back.
"Get them damn dogs. (Expletive) her. Don't be scared. You ain't did s---. What they gonna charge you with? They can't do nothing. Say, 'b----, look here, give me them damn dogs. Give me my s---. I'm telling you these my two damn dogs. Period,'" according to the affidavit.
In another call, Harper tells Sanders to move equipment and a dog named Sadaam to an apartment, according to court records.
In April, Sanders was ticketed by the Gary Police Department animal control enforcement division because there were 10 pit bull terriers in a home located in the 4300 block of West 29th Avenue in Gary, according to the affidavit.
Records from an animal hospital show Harper owned and took 22 pit bull terriers to the clinic from January 2012 to June 2014, according to the affidavit. Some of the dogs were treated for Parvovirus, a fractured leg and a possible infection.
Mark Back, spokesman for the sheriff's department, said three of the dogs have been adopted. One of the seized dogs, Ruby, is in foster care with a federal agent. The only dog that remains in the shelter is Capone/Argo.