Issue Links: Dog/Cock Fighting
Summary: Thousands of dollars often are wagered on cockfights, which typically involve strapping razor-sharp knives to the legs of roosters, which fight until one of them is killed or knocked out.
A number of people were shot to death Thursday morning at a cockfight in rural South Texas as police continue to struggle with the centuries-old blood sport despite renewed efforts to stamp it out.
Few details were available about the crime, which occurred in the small town of Edcouch, about 25 miles north of the Mexican border. Masked gunmen were reported to have opened fire at the cockfight, killing three and wounding eight. The McAllen [Texas] Monitor reported that several assailants ambushed spectators and participants alike behind a farmhouse where the cockfights were held, "shooting indiscriminately."
The investigating sheriff's office, which released a statement referring to "multiple" murders, declined to comment.
Cockfighting remains relatively common in the state, both in rural areas and in cities, according to police, who say it is difficult to penetrate the tightknit groups that run the fights.
"It's all very hush-hush," said Rey Lujan, deputy chief of criminal investigations for the Bexar County Sheriff's Office in San Antonio, which in January raided a fight, confiscating about 100 roosters and $10,000 in cash. In February, a man was killed at a fight in East Texas after an argument over a bet, said Van Zandt County Sheriff R.P. Burnett Jr.
Thousands of dollars often are wagered on cockfights, which typically involve strapping razor-sharp knives to the legs of roosters, which fight until one of them is killed or knocked out. Fight promoters charge people to park and attend the events, as well as to enter their birds in fights.
"There's a mentality, particularly among rural people, that this activity is OK," said Joel Caldwell, a lieutenant with the Galveston Police Department, which in December raided a ranch where more than 300 fighting cocks were allegedly being raised. "You'll hear people say, 'We're just fighting our dinner before we eat it.' "
Police officers say they have been aided by a Texas law enacted last year that stiffens criminal penalties for cockfighting, including allowing officers to criminally charge people who attend cockfights or who allow their property to be used for fights. The highest penalties under federal and state law apply both to those who bring the animals to a fight and to those who handle the animals during fights.
"When police officers roll up on a cockfight, everyone runs and you're left with a bunch of birds," said Belinda Smith, chief of the animal-cruelty section of the Harris County District Attorney's Office in Houston. Now, at least, she said, "you can prosecute the property owners."
Still, Ms. Smith said she believes the law should be strengthened further so that cockfighting carries penalties as stiff as those for dogfighting, which carry a possible jail term. "There are a lot of folks inside Houston who have hundreds of birds on their property," she said. "We haven't upgraded cockfighting law enough."
Cockfighting is a persistent problem in other places as well, including Southern California, said David LaBahn, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Association of Prosecuting Attorneys. Federal legislation is pending that would make it a crime to attend animal fights, in addition to the federal criminal penalties already in place against those who wage the fights.
"Federal criminal laws needs to be strengthened to crack down on cockfighting and hopefully prevent future tragedies like the one in South Texas from happening again," said Nicole Paquette, Texas Director for the Humane Society of the United States.