Convictions remain scarce as hen’s teeth
LONDON, Kentucky––Ten people including a Laurel County bailiff were reportedly cited by Kentucky State Police for various alleged offenses on July 10, 2021 while attending a cockfight at Bald Rock, Kentucky, according to the Chicago-based animal advocacy organization Showing Animals Respect & Kindness [SHARK].
SHARK drones and hidden cameras monitored the scene.
As of July 15, 2021, however, not a word about the police raid had been posted either by the Kentucky State Police themselves, by the Laurel County Sheriff’s Office, or by local news media.
Jury acquits in videotaped dog abuse case
The Sentinel Echo newspaper, however, published from the Laurel County seat in London, Kentucky, on July 14, 2021 bannered the story of how “Two men accused of dog abuse [were] found ‘not guilty.’
“Almost two years after they were charged with torturing a dog and causing its death,” wrote Sentinel Echo reporter Nita Johnson, “two Laurel men were found not guilty of all charges by a Laurel County jury.
“The six-man, six-woman jury took only 10 minutes to consider the evidence presented during the one-day trial on Wednesday against 21-year-old Toby Glen Harrison of East Bernstadt and 20-year-old Noah Andrew Blevins of London,” Johnson recounted, “before returning the ‘not guilty’ verdict.”
Suspects Harrison and Blevins were found innocent, Johnson explained, “although the Commonwealth Attorney’s office called five witnesses to tell the story of the abuse of the stray dog on July 31, 2019.
Local tried to help the dog
Harrison and Blevins were charged after “an incident in which a social media post showed a male striking a dog. The dog was later found with serious injuries from stab wounds,” allegedly with knives taken from the kitchen of a woman named Audra Quinn Sizemore, “and died,” Johnson summarized.
Audra Quinn Sizemore saw the video; found the dog, alive but badly injured; unsuccessfully sought veterinary care; and notified a Laurel County Sheriff’s deputy and an animal control officer.
Four young men were charged in all, two of whom settled their cases out of court, said Johnson. One of those who settled admitted that he had illegally supplied alcohol to the group, which had included juveniles.
Also in the headlines
What the acquittal of Harrison and Blevins says about attitudes toward animals in rural Kentucky may be debated.
By way of sociological context, the next day’s edition of the Sentinel Echo bannered the July 15, 2021 acquittal of Shannon Collins, 43, of Manchester, Kentucky, on charges originally filed, according to staff writer Jarrod Mills, as “four counts of first-degree sodomy, one count of first-degree sexual abuse, one count of first-degree rape, and one count of second-degree sexual abuse for incidents occurring from the summer of 2015 through the summer of 2018 and involving three separate victims under the age of 18.”
Female co-defendant Reona Bledsoe, 37, of East Bernstadt, Kentucky, had already pleaded guilty, Mills wrote, to “one count of complicity sexual abuse in the second degree.”
What cockfighters think of Collins’ alleged behavior, and prompt acquittal after two of the alleged minor victims testified, may only be inferred.
But Tim Sizemore, described by SHARK as “a well-known, longtime cockfighter,” who allegedly owns and operates the Blackberry Pit near Manchester in Clay County, Kentucky, made his perspective on cruelty to dogs clear in two posts to the American Beagler online discussion forum on March 5 and March 7, 2008.
Opposing proposed reinforcing amendments to the Kentucky anti-animal cruelty law, Tim Sizemore posted first, misspellings and all, “Everybody need to contavt there legistature tell them not to vote the Romeos Law in, if this law passes it will change the law to a class D FELONY if you torture a dog or cat, When we train of dogs beagles, coondawgs, birddogs and any other type of dog you train, if you use shock collars, choke chains or anything in particular they can chrarge you with a class D felony CHARGE. WAKE UP KENTUCKY HUNTERS We need the NRA to help us on this bill.”
Added Tim Sizemore two days later, “About time i get a little support the human society takes small steps then they will keep pushing for more laws, if you shock, kick, use a choke chain to train your dog that is the same thing as cruelty wake up at start calling your senatores and tell them to oppose the bill before it is to late.WHEN IT IS TOO LATE I DO NOT WANT TO HERE NO CRYING ON HERE BECAUSE I WARNED EVERY DOG TRAINER”
Subjects of tips
Tim Sizemore and Charles Howard “Magoo” Dixon, alleged manager of the Hawk’s Nest cockpit in Pike County, were subjects of tips forwarded by SHARK to Kentucky State Police commander Colonel Phillip Burnett, Jr. on July 14, 2021.
Opened SHARK founder Steve Hindi, “As you are probably aware, officers of the Kentucky State Police busted a long-running illegal cockfight in Laurel County on Saturday night. Over one hundred people were in attendance.
“While we would have liked to see many more arrests,” Hindi said, “this is a very welcome, long overdue move.
“There are two illegal cockfighting pits in Pike County which are among the largest in Kentucky,” Hindi told Burnett, “and both of these criminal operations are planning on holding illegal cockfights this coming Saturday, July 17, 2021.
“Pits must be shut down now”
“We have repeatedly spoken about these pits with Kentucky State Police personnel at Post 9 in the past, including Captain Randy Sturber, but these pits, called Blackberry and Hawk’s Nest, continued their criminal activities as recently as last Saturday,” Hindi charged.
Providing Burnett with details of the alleged cockfight locations, Hindi added that, “Personnel at Post 9 have admitted that they are aware of these criminal operations, but have refused to properly perform their responsibilities to shut down these criminal enterprises. These pits must be shut down now, not temporarily, but permanently in accordance with the law,” Hindi emphasized.
SHARK in a separate statement confirmed that “SHARK investigators were on the ground in Kentucky monitoring an illegal cockfighting operation called Bald Rock. Once we knew there was a cockfight going on, we alerted the state police, who sent out four cruisers,” plus, Hindi told ANIMALS 24-7, a game warden.
Why a game warden? Perhaps, Hindi suggested, because in Kentucky “gamecocks” are considered “game fowl,” in the same category as pheasants raised for so-called put-and-take pheasant hunting, in which the birds are released a day or two before being shot.
Thanking “our partners at the Humane Farming Association for their friendship and continued support of our work,” the SHARK prepared statement noted that, “One of the people who we believe was cited is Jacklyn Johnson.
“SHARK first exposed Johnson a year ago,” the statement said, “when we discovered that not only was she a cockfighter, but that she worked as a bailiff at the Laurel County Sheriff’s department. It must be noted that Ms. Johnson’s name was subsequently removed from the Sheriff’s website.
“We reached out to Laurel County Sheriff John Root numerous times regarding Ms. Johnson’s relationship to illegal cockfights, but Root never responded,” SHARK said, calling for “a state investigation into Sheriff John Root’s ties to cockfighting.”
Then-Humane Society of the U.S. [HSUS] animal fighting campaigns manager John Goodwin in February 2010 released video of Kentucky State Police attending a cockfight at the Laurel Creek Game Club, and told media “We’ve never been to the [Laurel Creek]pit when there weren’t uniformed officers there.”
Alleged gamecock breeders hit with restraining order
Earlier, both SHARK and Animal Wellness Action, headed by former HSUS president Wayne Pacelle, celebrated a restraining order reportedly issued in late June 2021 against Brent Easterling’s L&L Game Farm near Verbena, Alabama, by U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson.
The order, reported William Thornton for Birmingham Real Time News, covered “about 2,400 ‘roosters, hens, young chickens, and unhatched chickens’ at three locations in Chilton County.
“According to the document requesting the restraining order,” Thornton said, “U.S. Department of Agriculture investigators are looking into the activities of three members of a Chilton County family they believe are involved in cockfighting and gambling operations which violate the federal Animal Welfare Act. The order seeks to restrain the breeding population, saying that the chickens were found during the execution of a search warrant on June 21, 2021. The documents argue the birds should be ‘restrained in place,’ as moving them and isolating them would be cruel.”
Different paths to suspect
Continued Thornton, “According to the 10-page document requesting the restraining order, investigators say one of the men,” believed to be Brent Easterling himself, sold “birds and cockfighting implements, such as knives and boots,” via social media.
“The document also alleges,” wrote Thornton, that “one of the men bragged in an audio message, with the sound of roosters crowing in the background, that he got 50% of any money won ‘with my roosters.’ He later bragged in social media messages of having large ‘pots’ totaling $125,000 and $200,000 in his house, according to the documents.”
However, Thornton added, “The family has not been formally charged with anything related to animal fighting. An attorney representing the family did not immediately respond to inquiries.”
Easterling has been separately under investigation for nearly two years by both SHARK and Animal Wellness Action. The two organizations followed completely different paths to his doorstep.
SHARK, as ANIMALS 24-7 reported in August 2020, covertly monitored a “Call To Action BBQ” hosted and organized by Easterling after SHARK, funded by the Humane Farming Association, “targeted three major illegal cockfighting operations in Kentucky,” SHARK summarized in a July 27, 2020 media release.
Animal Wellness Action and the affiliated Animal Wellness Foundation indicated in a joint media release that Judge Thompson actually issued restraining orders against four members of the Easterling family: Brent, Billy, Tyler, and William Easterling.
Billy, Tyler, and William Easterling allegedly operate the Swiftcreek Game Farm.
“More than a year ago, in early June 2020,” the media release stated, “Animal Wellness Action and the Animal Wellness Foundation released a detailed report identifying Brent Easterling as a major trafficker in fighting animals and implements. The groups presented extensive evidence to the United States about his involvement and shared a dossier on him with the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama and with other federal law enforcement officials.
“Part of a far larger network”
Charged Pacelle, “The Easterlings are are part of a far larger network of animal fighters in Alabama and throughout the United States that have made America the breeding ground for the global cockfighting industry. While some [U.S.-hatched gamecocks] are destined for fighting pits inside the U.S., hundreds of thousands of birds move to dozens of nations throughout the world.”
According to Animal Wellness Action, “The three biggest Alabama shippers to Guam come from the same tiny town of Nauvoo, Alabama. One of the three shippers, Jerry Adkins of Slick Lizard Farms, told a Filipino television broadcaster that he sells 6,000 birds a year.
“Brent Easterling was not, according to our records, shipping birds to Guam,” said Animal Wellness Action, “but he was moving them to Mexico, the Philippines, and to other states, including New Mexico.”