American Animal Cruelty Investigation School (AACIS) Instructor and Animal Cruelty Investigator Sgt. Stephanie Nowlin helped the Florida First Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office successfully prosecute Kawaun Smith, a known felon and dogfighter, with:
- possession of a firearm by a convicted felon
- four counts of fighting or baiting animals
- six counts of confinement of animals without sufficient food, water, or exercise
- one count of possession of controlled substances.
Smith pleaded straight up to the court, which allows the judge to decide his sentence. On September 29, 2016, Circuit Judge Jennie Kensey sentenced Smith to 10 years in state prison.
The dogfighting incident occurred on August 18, 2015 when law enforcement and animal cruelty investigator Stephanie Nowlin responded to an active dogfight at Smith’s residence. Upon arrival, law enforcement arrested several individuals and removed several injured dogs that had been used in dogfighting. A total of nine dogs were removed from the property and a large amount of cash, drugs, and firearms were also seized from the scene.
Sgt. Nowlin’s investigation revealed that the property was consistently used for organized dogfighting in a shed in the back yard. Additionally, none of the dogs had any food or drinkable water.
Sgt. Nowlin assisted Assistant State Attorney Cierra Burns in successfully prosecuting the case. Smith’s conviction was the first of five people arrested in this case.
Once the case is closed, AACIS will be using it as a case file analysis because there are several points in the investigation that were overlooked by law enforcement, but caught by Sgt. Nowlin. For example, law enforcement overlooked the wash down area, a bite stick, and the importance of baby powder found on the scene as being significant. It illustrates the value of animal cruelty investigators to an investigative team because they have the special skills and knowledge required to successfully prosecute cases such as dogfighting.
In Escambia county, Florida, where Sgt. Nowlin works with the Sheriff’s Office on a regular basis, deputies recognize her expert knowledge and are always willing to work with her and provide her with their assistance in any way that they can. Additionally, the State Attorney’s Office also works as a key player in the team approach to prosecuting dogfighting.
AACIS Executive Director and former deputy sheriff, Doug Eddins says, “It takes a team approach to successfully prosecute cases. Escambia County is fortunate that everyone works well together towards the common goal. There are many other counties in Florida and other states where the cross-functional approach is not yet embraced.”
We will update this article with future posts as the four remaining suspects go to trial in the months to come!