Cockfight raided in Lewis County

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

HOHENWALD - State and federal law enforcement agencies raided a big cockfight at the Shiloh Game Club in Lewis County on Saturday and the Humane Society says it shows Tennessee's Legislature should pass stronger laws against cockfighting.

The Humane Society of the U.S. supplied intelligence prompting the investigation and raid on the "cockfighting enterprise." The office of Kim R. Helper, district attorney for the 21st Judicial District, says 250-300 people were at the cockfights where at least 236 people were charged for being spectators at a cockfight, the Society reported.

Thirty-seven people were charged with narcotics-related offenses and approximately 50 others have pending cockfighting charges, the Humane Society reported. Law enforcement officials have documented a strong connection between cockfighting and the distribution of illegal drugs.

Most participants and spectators were charged with crimes under state law, the Society said. However, some organizers of the fights could be charged with federal crimes. Cockfighting is a misdemeanor under Tennessee law, but it's a federal felony if animals or paraphernalia are moved across state lines. Many cars at the cockfight had license plates from Alabama, Georgia and Texas, indicating that many of the people crossed state lines to participate in an animal fight.

"Cockfighting is a cruel blood sport in which two birds have razor-sharp knives tied to their legs and are forced to fight to the death," said LeighAnn McCollum, Tennessee state director for The Humane Society of the United States. "Despite some progress with pending legislation, our state lawmakers have failed to pass meaningful laws to help end the despicable spectacle of cockfighting in Tennessee. Fortunately, the USDA is attempting to bring more meaningful federal charges against the principal figures involved in this criminal operation."

This raid was a multi-agency partnership lead by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General. Collaborating agencies consisted of District Attorney General Kim Helper and officers of the 21st Judicial District, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, and Tennessee Highway Patrol.

The Society says Tennessee and Kentucky, Mississippi and Alabama are in the heart of what is considered the cockfighting corridor where cockfighting is only punished as a misdemeanor.

Cockfighting practices include breeding birds for viciousness, drugging them to heighten aggression and fitting their legs with razor-sharp knives or gaffs, which resemble curved ice picks, according to the non-profit organization.

Law enforcement raids across the country have revealed that cockfights, which are frequently attended by children, often involve firearms and other weapons due to of the large amounts of cash present for gambling, the organization reported.