Suspected cockfighting ring busted in Antelope Valley
Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies busted up a suspected cockfighting ring in the Antelope Valley on Monday, seizing nearly 300 birds, most of them groomed for battle.
Authorities say they’ve seen a recent uptick in cockfighting cases, in which roosters are outfitted with razor-sharp blades and goaded into fighting — often to their bloody deaths — in illegal gambling events that draw tens of thousands of dollars in bets.
“It’s like any other crime pattern, it has peaks and valleys,” said Lt. Keith Lieberman of the department’s Community Oriented Services bureau. “For some reason, right now, we’re kind of on the uptick.”
Deborah Knaan, animal cruelty case coordinator for the L.A. County district attorney’s office, said that increased focus on cockfighting on the part of law enforcement has led to more busts — which has, in turn, emboldened neighbors to tip off authorities.
“They know cases will actually be investigated if they call them in,” she said. “Cockfighting doesn’t just involve the inhumane treatment of animals, it involves a whole host of quality-of-life issues.”
Along with cockfighting often come drugs, weapons and drinking, not to mention a stream of “the type of people you don’t want in your neighborhood” passing through, she said.
During Monday’s bust, officers from the county Department of Animal Care and Control examined 279 birds found on site. Of those, 239 were missing their combs and wattles, as well as their rear feathers — all signs that the birds were to be used for fighting, officials said. The other 40 birds were hens allegedly used for breeding.
Also seized at the scene were a shotgun, ammunition, medicine for the birds and blades, called gaffs, to be strapped to roosters’ legs.
The animal care department will impound the birds and care for most of them where they were found. Then, “unfortunately, the vast majority are humanely euthanized,” the agency’s Deputy Director Aaron Reyes said.
“The sad reality is that these are fighting roosters,” he said. “They’re born and maintained for one reason. That reason is to fight.”
Oftentimes, these are birds that have survived brutal “culling” processes, during which birds with undesirable characteristics are weeded out, usually in their first year of life, said Eric Sakach, senior law enforcement specialist with the Humane Society of the United States. Typically, he said, the birds can live up to 12 years.
Deputies found the birds while executing a search warrant in the 34200 block of 90th Street East in Juniper Hills. The birds, as is typical, were kept in separate cages in an area where most properties sit on several acres.
Lieberman said investigators have been involved in three similar busts in the last four months — all in the Antelope Valley.
He said Monday’s bust was one of only a couple he’s seen involving more than 200 birds. On the lower end were seizures of about 100.
A suspect was identified, but Lieberman said he was not arrested, in part, because investigators hope he’ll be able to aid in other busts.
“In reality, we would take him and book him and he’d be cited out anyway,” Lieberman said. By taking this route, “It gives us a little more time to investigate.”
Knaan said that in California, a first cockfighting offense is a misdemeanor. Then, because of a recent law change, a second conviction can be a felony, carrying up to three years in state prison.
Plus, she added, cockfighters could be charged with a litany of potentially related offenses, including gambling, child endangerment and the possession of cockfighting paraphernalia.
Even being present for a cockfight is illegal.
Knaan said the implementation of an animal abuse tip line, which rewards tipsters with up to $5,000 for information that leads to an arrest or conviction, has led authorities to investigate more cockfighting cases. That number is (800) 662-3483.
“There’s big money in this activity,” Reyes said, “but also what comes with it is a lot of pain and agony and, really, a select few people enjoying themselves watching animals suffer and tear each other apart.”
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