Lt. Tony Dana, of the Smith County Sheriff’s Department, said an anonymous tipster alerted law enforcement to the fight going on in a “chicken yard” at a residence.
“When we’re driving up and getting out of our patrol units to take care of the situation, they were running, too,” Dana said. “It appeared they had already had a fight or two going by the time we got there.”
At least three children, ages 6 to about 16, were present at the scene, Dana said.
“It’s just not a good environment for children, plus there’s alcohol on the scene,” he said. “It’s not a good or safe environment for children at all.”
He said there were indications that the children did not live at the scene and mothers came to retrieve their children.
Dana said child endangerment charges could be pursued in the future.
The cockfights took place in a dilapidated, partly covered structure about half a mile south from Jackson Elementary School.
Fighting roosters were penned in crude cages, constructed from political yard signs bound and gathered row-by-row.
Dana said some of the roosters had missing eyes, gouge wounds and slashes to the bone. Several roosters were already dead when officials arrived and six were euthanized Friday night.
The confiscated roosters are at an undisclosed location where they are being taken care of and treated for injuries, Dana said.
Because Texas is one of six states where it is legal to attend cockfights, possess roosters for fighting and possess cockfighting weapons, many of the people detained at the bust were released without charge.
“We have to prove who is actually causing the animals to fight before we can file a case,” he said. “Just because they’re there or they’re the owner, they’re not necessarily the ones causing the animals to fight.”
He said the cruelty to livestock law dealing with poultry is “very vague.”
“There’s no provision in the law that makes it illegal to be a spectator of these events. A lot of times this is why arrests are not made on site,” he said.
John Goodwin, director of animal cruelty for The Humane Society of the United States, said the Tyler area has several cockfighting rings operating on an almost weekly basis.
He said investigations into other cockfights uncovered prostitution, open drug use and illegal wagering.
He commended the Smith County Sheriff Department for taking allegations of animal fighting seriously.
However, he said cockfighting will continue to be a pervasive problem in Texas until a law is passed banning the “gruesome crime.”
“The first thing we need to do is tighten up the Texas law on cockfighting and bring it in line with the dog-fighting law,” Goodwin said.
He said there are about 100 cockfighting locations across the state and he estimated that “more than half are probably in East Texas.”
A bill proposed in the Texas House, sponsored by Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, would close loopholes in the existing law, according to The Humane Society of the United States. The proposed law would strengthen the state’s cockfighting law to ban attending fights, possessing birds with intent to fight them and possessing cockfighting weapons.
Cockfighting is outlawed in all 50 states and is punished as a felony in 39, including Texas.
Dana said he was involved in another cockfighting bust in the mid-1990s and said he is aware that it is still going largely unreported in the area.
He hopes Friday night’s bust deters individuals from cockfighting.
“The positive thing about this is now that this has been reported, we have run out there and busted it, word’s going to spread pretty quickly around Smith County,” he said. “If we get word (of a fight), we’re going to bust it up.”
Published February 20
Tyler Morning Telegraph