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.
Steve Hindi says
SHARK, the Humane Farming Association, and Animal Wellness Action are all working hard on the cockfighting issue. Collectively we are working on the front lines to expose individuals and locations, as well as legislatively and in the courts. This is a triad of activism that will ultimately succeed where others have failed.
There has never been such a comprehensive effort to stop cockfighting. Exposing the occasional cockfight pit will never stop the cockfighting mafia. It’s like cutting grass – it will just grow back. If you want to stop this abuse, you have to rip it out at the roots. Our activities are taking enormous time and resources from all three organizations.
Please support our efforts. We aren’t busting the occasional cockfight to raise funds. HFA, AWA and SHARK are working in many states from coast to coast, taking on criminals involved in drug cartels, prostitution, weapons trafficking, murder, etc.
We are pushing the US Postal Service to stop helping the cockfighting mafia by shipping fighting roosters for cheap across the United States, as well as to other countries. We just stopped an effort to decriminalize cockfighting in Oklahoma. We are taking on corrupt law enforcement who have in some cases threatened to make us disappear.
There is a desperate effort by our opposition to stop us by any means possible. Unfortunately for them, we are not stopping. With your help, we’re just getting warmed up.
Cockfighting is illegal everywhere in the US and its territories, and yet this bloody, filthy spectacle still not only persists, but in some areas thrives. This is a sad commentary on the animal protection movement. So what are you willing to do to make a better world?
Time for a big change. Time to demonstrate the power and determination of compassion, but we need your help.
Sherry DeBoer says
Great article Merritt & Beth! Great job and doings and goings on, Steven and Bradley! Wow! That’s pure dedication, love and bravery. I honor y’all and your team members.❤️
Karen Davis, PhD says
Valuable coverage of some of the unspeakable things our species inflicts on chickens in the U.S. and throughout the world. However, it is not fair to impugn our chicken victims by calling “chickenshit” the culprit for spreading avian influenza (plus many other infections, bacterial, viral, parasitic, to humans and other creatures). “Chickenshit” may be catchy but it is unfair to these poor birds who cannot defend their bodies from the spread of the evil effects for which our species is completely responsible. Would we use a similar demeaning term if instead of chickens the victims were human? Would we blame horses for their “horseshit”? Let us please think of the words we choose when speaking about other animals. A week ago, a vegan business actually put out a call urging customers to purchase their “Easter” products: “Don’t Be Chicken”! Chickens are not “chicken” anywhere but in the benighted human mind. Needless to say, I complained to the vegan business. Based on their reply, I think they understand, now, that this seemingly trivial metaphor matters and is inappropriate.
Karen Davis, PhD, President, United Poultry Concerns. http://www.upc-online.org
Merritt Clifton says
“Calling ‘chickenshit’ the culprit for spreading avian influenza” does not “impugn our chicken victims”; it describes literally and accurately what is going on. The H5N1 influenza cycle in North America begins with migratory waterfowl contracting H5N1 from Asian migratory waterfowl when the flocks from around the world concentrate in close proximity in the Arctic Circle during summer. Migrating south, those waterfowl drop guano that in turn infects other wild birds and, frequently falling among backyard flocks and gamefowl housed outdoors, infects domestic poultry. Being frequently transported, gamefowl are the major vectors for spreading the H5N1 virus into confinement poultry barns, mostly via flecks of chickenshit on workers’ boots and clothing, worn to cockfights on weekends and into the barns during the work week.
ANIMALS 24-7 does not see anything “demeaning” in a factually accurate literal description, and after 35 years of reading our coverage, Karen, you should know very well that ANIMALS 24-7 does not flinch from either comparable descriptions of human disease vectors, or the use of terms such as bullshit, chickenshit, and horseshit to describe human behavior having similar odoriferous attributes. In short, if it stinks like shit, we call it that.
Jamaka Petzak says
Sharing with gratitude and all the usual, and wishing and praying for a sea change in this society resulting in those whose motto is “protect and serve” to truly PROTECT and SERVE US, not the criminals.
Last weekend I saw a big, jacked-up pickup truck parked locally. There was a pair of cattle horns mounted on the hood–not exactly unusual in my part of the country, but the truck also had a decoration I’ve never seen before. There were two desiccated chicken legs/feet wired to the grille. My first thoughts were how gross and bizarre that was–then I started to wonder if the driver was a cockfighter signaling to his fellow “enthusiasts.”