And organized crime associated with cockfighting is not just a few rotten eggs
HONOLULU, Hawaii––Five days after an alleged cockfight attendee shot five others in Māʻili, Hawaii, 30 miles from Honolulu, murdering two and wounding three, the Hawaiian killings continued to both upstage and illustrate the efforts of Animal Wellness Action and Showing Animals Respect & Kindness to get Kentucky law enforcement to respond to illegal cockfights with a semblance of seriousness.
Animal Wellness Action and Showing Animals Respect & Kindness were only minutes into a Zoom media conference on April 19, 2023 when Animal Wellness Action president Wayne Pacelle first mentioned the Hawaii shootings, and a recent shooting at a cockpit in Dallas, pointing out the frequency with which gambling on cockfights leads to murder.
Pacelle and Showing Animals Respect & Kindness founder Steve Hindi also pointed out the involvement of drug trafficking and organized crime in connection with cockfighting.
Could it happen here?
None of the assembled Kentucky news media, however, responded with the obvious question: could mass murder linked to cockfighting happen within their own circulation and broadcast radiuses?
As of course it could. Only five months earlier, in December 2022, George Washington Wagner IV, 31, was sentenced to serve eight consecutive life sentences without possibility of parole, plus another 121 years for the various other offenses, for his part in an Ohio case closer to Kentucky than the nearest gas station in parts of Kentucky.
Four members of one suspected cockfighting family, the Wagners, allegedly massacred seven members of another, the Rhodens, plus Hannah Mae Rhoden Gilley, 20, fiancé of cockfighter Frankie Rhoden.
Wagner’s brother Edward “Jake” Wagner, 29, in April 2021 pleaded guilty to all eight murders, in a deal that spared all four alleged Wagner family conspirators from facing the death penalty.
Jake Wagner was sentenced to serve eight consecutive life terms without parole, plus 100 years on fifteen additional charges, including having had sexual intercourse with a minor.
“When are you going to help these kids?
Hindi showed the April 19, 2023 Zoom media conference undercover photo after undercover photo of children attending cockfights, presumably with their parents.
“When are you going to help these kids and keep them out of these criminal operations?” asked Hindi of the Kentucky State Police, whose non-response to dozens of tips about cockfights in progress since 2020––reinforced by video and even printed cockfighting schedules––led to the Zoom media conference.
One reporter, Bill Estep of the Lexington Herald Leader, mentioned Hindi’s question in his coverage. Otherwise, Kentucky media seem to be more interested lately in the possibility that some school library books might include as many positive references to gay and transexual relationships as does the Bible.
No interest in H5N1 threat
Pacelle and ANIMALS 24-7, the only media participant from outside the Appalachian region, both extensively discussed the relationship between gamefowl transport for cockfighting and the transmission of the H5N1 avian flu.
But Estep, again, appears to have been the only media representative other than ANIMALS 24-7 to mention H5N1 even in passing, even though the poultry industry is by far the biggest source of employment in the Appalachian states. None of the Kentucky media so much as asked a relevant question.
Suspects surrender after Hawaii massacre
Meanwhile back in Hawaii, police announced the arrests of Jacob Borge, 23, and a 16-year-old boy, whom authorities did not name, on first degree murder charges in connection with the April 15, 2023 shootings.
The suspects reportedly surrendered to police on April 18, 2023.
“The shooting killed a man and woman,” identified as Gary Rabellizsa, 34, and Cathy Rabellizsa, 59, “and wounded three others,” summarized Jennifer Sinco Kelleher for Associated Press. “The Honolulu medical examiner’s office as of April 19, 2023 had yet to release the names of the dead — both of whom were taken in private cars to a hospital,”
Borge, Sinco Kelleher mentioned, was represented by the State Public Defender’s office “in a previous disorderly conduct fight threat case.”
The current Hawaii case is reminiscent of the November 2001 murder of Leon Fernandez, 39, who was beaten to death at a Kalihi cockfight after defending another man, Eufracio Esmeralda, 41, who was also severely beaten. Evan B. Kakugawa, convicted of second-degree murder for the killing, received a life sentence with the possibility of eventual parole.
Four other men were convicted of related offenses.
Excuses differ little from state to state
Hawaiian authorities have offered reporters essentially the same litany of excuses for not breaking up cockfights and arresting cockfighters that Hindi, in particular, has heard time and again after presenting information about cockfights in progress to county sheriffs and state police, not only in Kentucky but also in Ohio, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and California.
“Authorities say investigating cockfights is difficult in part because they are highly organized events on private property,” Sinco Kelleher recited.
“The clandestine fights happen all over Hawaii,” Sinco Kelleher continued, “usually on large, remote properties shrouded by brush and accessible only by dirt roads, like in Waianae, where the weekend shooting took place.”
Offered Honolulu police chief Joe Logan in a written statement, “Neighbors are also reluctant to get involved for fear of retaliation.”
“It’s not a cultural right. It’s illegal. Period.”
Continued Sinco Kelleher, “Despite being illegal in Hawaii since 1884, fights between roosters with blades affixed to their legs have remained a part of life in the islands, especially among the state’s large population of Filipinos, who are credited with bringing the practice from the Philippines, where it was introduced by Spaniards. Many cockfighting fans claim the blood sport is part of local Hawaii culture.”
“People say, ‘I grew up with it. It’s a cultural thing. Papa had chickens. We went to chicken fights, that’s how we made our money,’” Patty Kahanamoku-Teruya told Sinco Kelleher, as chair of the neighborhood board where the shootings occurred.
“It’s not a cultural right. It’s illegal. Period,” Kahanamoku-Teruya emphasized.
“Can’t really be controlled by law enforcement,” says ex-cop chief
But former Honolulu police chief Gary Yabuta opined to Sinco Kelleher that cockfighting is “so huge and so popular in Hawaii that it really can’t be controlled by law enforcement.”
That is what cockfighters everywhere count upon to stay in business
“These activities persist because these people think they can get away with it,” Pacelle said during the April 19, 2023 Zoom video news conference.
The Zoom conference publicized an open letter to Kentucky governor Andy Beshear, attorney general Daniel Cameron, and Kerry Harvey, director of the Kentucky Justice & Public Safety Cabinet, which oversees the Kentucky State Police.
Kentucky State Police fiddle while suspects burn rubber
The Kentucky State Police responded in a media release that it “investigates complaints and tips regarding illegal activity to the fullest extent.”
How exactly such investigations are done while rarely actually visiting the scene of reported cockfights, the Kentucky State Police did not explain. Neither did the Kentucky State Police explain their practice, when they have responded to some extent, of allowing all of the suspects to leave the scene without so much as questioning anyone.
“Some of the actions taken by the Kentucky State Police regarding cockfighting complaints include saturated patrols in an attempt to identify criminal activity, site visits to alleged cockfighting events and full case investigations resulting in criminal indictments,” the agency continued, but the only actual criminal indictments of Kentucky cockfighters since 2018 of which ANIMALS 24-7 is aware came as the result of federal investigations.
Animal Wellness Action and Showing Animals Respect & Kindness suggested that there might be as many as 100 cockpits in Kentucky, primarily in the eastern half of the state, each of which may have as much as $100,000 worth of infrastructure, including buildings with stadium seating and often unlicensed bars and kitchens.
“Such extensive animal-fighting infrastructure and capacity is itself an indictment of the Kentucky State Police and a testament to its failure to investigate crimes and enforce the law,” Pacelle said.