Carter County DA Cuts Deal to Avoid Arrests of Alleged Cockfight Facilitators on Felony Charges

Melissa Handke’s Office bends as Oklahoma cockfighting leader makes defamatory statements about her and sheriff’s deputies in the county

Carter County, OK — Animal Wellness groups are questioning Carter County District Attorney Melissa Handke’s Office for not seeking the arrests of two alleged facilitators of a large-scale cockfight weeks ago when the local sheriff’s office pushed for felony charges related to animal cruelty.  

This decision comes after Anthony DeVore, the leader of an organized cockfighting network called the Gamefowl Commission was at the courthouse all week filming defamatory, personal attacks on TikTok against the DA and individual deputies by name as way to apply pressure for justice to go unserved.

Handke’s office confirmed today that the defendants, Catlin and Darline Gravitt, are currently free and scheduled to make an appearance at the courthouse for a hearing tomorrow, where they may or may not be charged.

 “As a former District Attorney and President of the District Attorneys Association, I believe it is at the very least sad when a prosecutor gives an impression of kowtowing to criminals,’ said Drew Edmondson, co-chair of the National Law Enforcement Council of Animal Wellness Action and the Center for a Humane Economy. “There should be transparency in how this case is handled. While the cockfighters may be loud and threatening, there are many citizens of Carter County who are opposed to animal cruelty and believe statutes outlawing cockfighting should be vigorously enforced. A DA should perform his or her duty to enforce the law without ‘fear or favor.’ ”

“An outspoken cockfighter, not involved in this case, is trying to intimidate the sheriff and his deputies and is making ludicrous charges against them for doing their job,” said Kevin Chambers, Oklahoma state director for Animal Wellness Action. “This man’s video rants wildly misrepresent the facts and are a totally irresponsible attack on law enforcement personnel who put their lives on the line every day for the community.”

Click here to watch his videos.

The defendants are the property owners at 5353 Santa Fe Rd. in Wilson, where a staged animal fighting bust occurred in late April. Carter County sheriff’s deputies acted on a successful tip of a cockfight in progress from Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK) and Animal Wellness Action.

Several attendees at the cockfight were caught fleeing the scene through the woods but were caught by Sheriff’s deputies. “Cockfighting is associated with a wide range of associated crimes — often violent crime — yet the two Sheriff’s deputies were fearless in quickly breaking up a crime in progress,” said SHARK’s Steve Hindi.

Carter County Sheriff’s Office recommended the DA charge the defendants with four felonies after documenting dozens of fighting birds and an arena with chicken feathers on the ground at the location. “Knives and Gaffs were located in a bedroom with the ID belonging to Catlin (Gravitt) next to them,” noted deputies, who also seized firearms from the residence.

Read the law enforcement records by clicking here.

“If you facilitate and organize a cockfight on your property, that’s a crime and an enforcement action is the proper response,” said Kevin Chambers, Oklahoma state director for Animal Wellness Action. “If the DA is bending to the demands of the leader of an organized cockfighting syndicate, that’s even more alarming and disconcerting.”

Chambers sent an email to Handke directly on Wednesday, urging her to enforce the law. “Lately, it seems that Carter County has become the hub of illegal cockfighting, not only in Oklahoma but in the US.… I urge you to nip this trend by punishing the offenders, especially the organizers, to the full extent,” he wrote. Read the entire letter by clicking here.

This case is the second large scale bust in Carter County since June 2023, which was also a result of a tip from the same cockfighting watchdog organizations.

To help combat cockfighting as well as dogfighting, Animal Wellness Action has launched a new reward program that offers cash compensation not only for information that leads to arrests and convictions, but also for tips on the location of planned or occurring cockfights in the state. The organization will provide $2,500 to any individual who provides tips to the organization or to law enforcement that results in arrests in Oklahoma for illegal cockfighting under state or federal law. Amounts for other information will vary based on the credibility and timeliness of the tips.

People with such knowledge may send an email to:

Animal Wellness Action is a Washington, D.C.-based 501(c)(4) whose mission is to help animals by promoting laws and regulations at federal, state and local levels that forbid cruelty to all animals. The group also works to enforce existing anti-cruelty and wildlife protection laws. Animal Wellness Action believes helping animals helps us all. Twitter: @AWAction_News

SHARK is a non-profit organization with supporters around the U.S. and beyond. SHARK receives no government funding and completely relies on donations and grants to work on issues ranging in scope from local to worldwide. With a small core of volunteers, and a staff of five, SHARK battles tirelessly against rodeos, bullfighting, pigeon shoots, turkey shoots, canned hunts and more. President Steve Hindi has an open invitation to debate “the opposition.” Because of his domination of past debates with animal abusers, however, it has been years since the opposition has taken him on.