Ignoring cockfights, sheriffs & state troopers put whole communities at risk
TUPELO, Mississippi––One of these days Lee County, Mississippi sheriff Jim Johnson may be forcefully reminded by agents of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that allowing cockfights to go on practically under his nose is not just a matter of ignoring state and federal law.
It also happens to be a matter of putting the regional economy and public health at risk. Memphis, Tennessee, just 115 miles northwest, is the hub of the U.S. poultry industry.
The U.S. poultry industry is stressed lately by the highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza virus. Since February 2022, 58.6 million poultry, mostly chickens, have either died of H5N1 or have been killed to try to stamp it out, according to USDA data published at the end of March 2023.
47 states have reported outbreaks
Transporting gamefowl in connection with cockfighting is suspected as perhaps the #1 way in which the H5N1 avian influenza moves from place to place, infecting new flocks even inside supposedly biologically secure poultry barns.
The H5N1 pandemic has now spread to 47 states. Wild birds are also afflicted, including eight highly endangered California condors who were recently found dead after possibly having scavenged infected gamefowl.
The disease has even occasionally jumped into mammals, including––just among species found in Mississippi––black bears, bobcats, coyotes, ferrets, fishers, foxes, lynx, opossums, otters, pigs, and raccoons.
Fighting avian flu & cockfighting are under the same federal agency
The same agency, the USDA Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service, USDA-APHIS for short, is charged with both combatting H5N1 and with enforcing the 2007 and 2018 federal laws that make cockfighting illegal in all U.S. states and territories.
Preoccupied with responding to H5N1 outbreaks as they occur, USDA-APHIS has not yet gotten around to stamping out country sheriffs with chicken shit on their shoes who think “chicken fighting” is no more serious a problem than a barnyard crap game.
But when the national effort to stop H5N1 does finally get around to addressing vectors as well as cases, USDA-APHIS may be very interested in the extensive dossier compiled by Showing Animals Respect & Kindness, with the help of the Humane Farming Association, on sheriffs and state troopers not doing their jobs, even as thousands of gamefowl move interstate from cockpit to cockpit in frequent proximity to outbreak locations.
Cockfighters, drug dealers, & cops who don’t do their jobs
The USDA-APHIS law enforcement division has already used leads provided by Showing Animals Respect & Kindness, the Humane Farming Association, and the more recently involved organization Animal Wellness Action to bust some cockfighters just for cockfighting-related activity.
But that is where county sheriffs and state troopers are supposed to be involved. The premise of the federal anti-cockfighting legislation is that while county sheriffs and state troopers do their jobs to stop cockfighting at the local level, the feds will help to bust the big interstate and international cockfighting rings.
If county sheriffs and state troopers do not do their jobs, shutting down local demand for gamefowl, the big interstate and international cockfighting rings will continue to have a market for bootlegged gamefowl, just as shutting down local demand for illegal drugs is essential to putting interstate and international drug traffickers out of business––many of whom are also involved in cockfighting.
Meanwhile, Showing Animals Respect & Kindness [SHARK] founder Steve Hindi continues to play whack-a-cockpit throughout the rural South, gradually amassing a drone video topographical map of the entire illegal industry.
On April 8, 2023, tipping off Kentucky State Trooper Post 15 to a cockfight at the Casey County Pit on Riffe Creek Road in Dunnville seemed to be sufficient to shut it down for the day, but Hindi was under no illusion that it would stay closed.
April 15, 2023 brought similar results at a new cockpit in Tippah County, Mississippi, where Google Earth and drone records of the site begin with the installation of bleachers.
Apparently warned that the first cockfight in the facility was under surveillance, “The cowardly criminals ran off before began it even began,” Hindi emailed to supporters.
But “Cockfighter Buddy Baughman is at it AGAIN!!,” Hindi updated on April 16, 2023.
“You helped us shut down a new location yesterday in Tippah County, not too far from Buddy’s place,” Hindi told SHARK volunteers and donors, “but he decided he would go ahead with his illegal cockfight because he is in Lee County, where the sheriff is corrupt!
“Buddy Baughman is so confident in the corruption of the Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson,” Hindi alleged, “that he has put out full schedules for his cockfighting season. Let’s call Sheriff Jim Johnson out for his corruption,” Hindi urged.
Hindi previously tipped Johnson off to cockfights held at the Baughman pit on January 14 and 15, 2023, including with a videotaped appeal posted at https://youtu.be/eY_H2ezhULo.
ANIMALS 24-7 detailed what happened then, or rather, what did not happen, in “Recognized” for trash pickup, Mississippi sheriff ignored cockfighters.
Gamecocks in pickup trucks
Unlike many sheriffs and state troopers, U.S. Customs & Border Protection personnel understand that their job includes interdicting cockfighting, especially the transborder traffic in gamecocks and paraphernalia.
Twice in two weeks, on March 24, 2023 and on April 11, 2023, U.S. Customs & Border Protection inspectors found gamecocks hidden in vehicles crossing the Juarez-Lincoln Bridge, the first time stuffed into the center console of a pickup truck and the second time stuffed into nylon stockings which were then hidden in the center console and under the seats of a pickup truck.
“We remain committed to upholding our agricultural mission, preventing the spread of animal diseases and preventing the exploitation of live animals,” said Laredo port director Alberto Flores.
One suspected cockfighter shoots another
Between those two incidents, police in Dallas, Texas, on March 31, 2023 responded to a reported shooting, finding 2,000 roosters and cockfighting paraphernalia at the scene.
A wounded man was transported to hospital. Another man, Bernardo Duran Betancourt, 47, was reportedly booked into the Dallas County jail on an aggravated assault charge connected to the shooting, with bail set at $75,000.
South of the border, the H5N1 avian flu pandemic has hit the Yucatán region especially hard.
Sixteen infected poultry farms earlier in 2023 reportedly killed as many as three million birds in response to outbreaks, nearly twice the official reported toll of 1.7 million.