Police Break Up Weekend Cockfight
No arrests are made in a raid near Somis where participants staged an illegal blood sport that is common and hard to stop, authorities say.
By Lynne Barnes
Times Staff Writer
After raiding a cockfight in an orchard near Somis over the weekend, Ventura County officials said Monday that the illegal fights occurred on a weekly basis around the county and that arrests were tough to make.
Sheriff's deputies, acting on an anonymous tip, descended on an orchard on Los Angeles Avenue, where 50 to 75 people had gathered around a makeshift plywood ring, about 2:30 p.m. Sunday, said Det. Don Jennings.
As deputies arrived, the spectators fled into surrounding fields and hills, Jennings said. No arrests were made. The property owner was not identified, Jennings said, and authorities did not know if the individual was aware of the event.
Deputies found 37 dead roosters at the scene. Fifty-eight live birds were found, but authorities euthanized all but seven, which are being kept as evidence.
Local cockfights are known to attract breeders and onlookers from Los Angeles and even as far as Nevada, Jennings said. Observers bet on the fights, and the amount wagered "can easily wind up being several thousand per match," he said.
But authorities have not made any arrests for cockfighting in the county since 2002, when 19 arrests were made in Fillmore, Jennings said. All but one of the 19 pleaded guilty and were sentenced to five days in jail and fined $500.
The problem is catching people in the act.
"It's not illegal to raise roosters," Jennings said. "We have to be able to prove they're being raised for cockfighting."
Over the years, gamecock operations have been found in outlying areas of El Rio, Fillmore, Moorpark, Oxnard, Somis and Santa Paula.
It is illegal to be a spectator at a cockfight, to possess accouterments and to raise birds for the purpose of cockfighting, authorities said.
All the crimes are misdemeanors, for which standard penalties are up to a year in county jail and fines of up to $1,000. However, recent state legislation raised potential fines to as much as $5,000.
While many of those who attend cockfights in Southern California are Latino, "it's not just a Hispanic thing," Jennings said.
In the Midwest, for example, aficionados tend to be non-Latino whites.
"And until recently, cockfighting was legal in some states. I believe it still is in Louisiana," Jennings said. It is also still legal in parts of New Mexico.
The fighting birds can cost anywhere from $50 to several thousand dollars, Jennings said. Before fights, they are injected with a combination of stimulants and steroids.
At the same time, razor spurs or needle-sharp gaffs — up to 1 1/2 inches long — are strapped to the birds' legs, which are used to poke and slash each other in battle.
"That pretty much guarantees both animals will die," Jennings said.
Some of the matches may last a few seconds or a minute or two, Jennings said. "Sometimes they have to do a lot of prodding and antagonizing to get them to fight."
Most events are publicized by word of mouth.
"It's not a centralized group," Jennings said. "It's like a social group. You can have one [cockfight] that's just a few people from the neighborhood, to one much bigger. A hundred is fairly common."
Kathy Jenks, director of the county's Department of Animal Regulation,
said the seven remaining birds found at the site near Somis were being
housed at the animal shelter in Camarillo until they are released by the
courts. They will then be destroyed.