Vicious Cockfighting Crimes Produce Fines Equivalent to a Parking Ticket
Mobile, AL — Animal Wellness Action (AWA) applauded Mobile County Sheriff’s Office for busting a cockfighting derby in Grand Bay last week, where authorities reported stadium seating, a pit for fighting, and even concessions. But the perpetrators of this crime got the equivalent of a minor parking ticket because Alabama has the nation’s weakest anti-cockfighting law. That 1896 law has attracted cockfighters to move into the state to conduct their illegal enterprise.
“Alabama’s anti-cockfighting law was weak in 1896 when it was adopted the year William McKinley was elected as U.S. President,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action. “The law is a joke, and it has given cockfighters confidence to act with impunity, lawlessness and cruelty in the Yellowhammer State.”
Just last week, a confidential tip led authorities to uncover an elaborate cockfighting operation where hot dogs and chicken fingers were sold as concessions and 60 birds were seized. The ring reportedly operates in Louisiana and Mississippi as well.
Ten people were arrested in this bust, but prosecutors dropped cockfighting charges against several defendants. A couple of others pled guilty to misdemeanor gambling, and nine others were given $50 fines (the maximum penalty for participating in a cockfight under the 1896 law).
A Relatively Weak Legal System For Animal Fighting
Alabama’s anti-cockfighting law hasn’t been upgraded in 127 years, but Alabama’s dogfighting law and the animal fighting laws in every other state have also been upgraded in every other state in the union since then.
Today’s law provides a maximum fine of $50 for people caught in the act and provides no mechanism for arresting participants who breed fighting animals, traffic in cockfighting knives and gaffs, or are present as spectators. All modern anti-cockfighting laws include these provisions. Nearly all state laws and the federal government treat cockfighting as a felony, with the activity almost always bound up with other crimes.
The federal government in 2021 indicted and arrested several major cockfighting traffickers and operators based in middle Alabama. A federal grand jury returned a 23-count indictment charging Brent Easterling, William Easterling, and five other family members based in Verbena, Alabama with conspiracy to violate the federal animal fighting law, including operating fighting operators, possessing fighting animals, and trafficking in cockfighting implements. The federal law provides for felony-level penalties, as do about 45 states, including Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, and Louisiana.
Animal Wellness Action has released a series of reports on cockfighting traffickers in Alabama, with the first release in June 2020 report also noted that several Alabamians illegally shipped fighting birds to Guam. The three biggest Alabama shippers to Guam come from the same tiny town of Nauvoo, Ala. One of the three shippers, Jerry Adkins of Slick Lizard Farms, told a Filipino television broadcaster that he sells 6,000 birds a year. With some birds fetching as much as $2,000 each, that could generate millions in unreported gross sales. According to Adkins, he sold 700 birds to a single purchaser in Mexico in just one year. Nationally recognized cockfighter Carol Nesmith and his associates posted this sale of fighting birds on Instagram – an indication that they think they are above the law and that law enforcement will take no action against them.
AWA’s report included Brent Easterling who did not ship birds to Guam, but he was moving them to Mexico, the Philippines, and to other states, including New Mexico. Swiftcreek Game farm is the farm frequented by Brent Easterling’s brothers Billy and Bobby and Billy’s son Tyler.
AWA also obtained BNTV videos where 10 other cockfighters in Alabama extol the fighting prowess of their birds, which are then illegally sold to other cockfighters.
“The people of Alabama shouldn’t have to rely on the U.S. Department of Justice to bring cockfighting criminals to justice,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action. “We call on the Governor and state lawmakers to address this gross deficiency in the law. What more evidence do they need that cockfighters are getting away with a cluster of crimes nearly every day of the year in Alabama?
Under current federal law, it is a crime to:
- Knowingly sponsor or exhibit an animal in a fighting venture;
- Knowingly attend an animal fighting venture, or knowingly cause an individual who has not attained the age of 16 to attend an animal fighting venture;
- Knowingly buy, sell, possess, train, transport, deliver, or receive any animal for purposes of having the animal participate in an animal fighting venture;
- Knowingly use the mail service of the U.S. Postal Service, or any “written, wire, radio televisions or other form of communications in, or using a facility of, interstate commerce,” to advertise an animal for use in an animal fighting venture, or to advertise a knife, gaff, or other sharp instrument designed to be attached to the leg of a bird for us in an animal fighting venture, or to promote or in any other manner further an animal fighting venture except as performed outside the U.S.;
- Knowingly sell, buy, transport, or deliver in interstate or foreign commerce “a knife, a gaff, or any other sharp instrument” designed or intended to be attached to the leg of a bird for us in an animal fighting venture.
Penalties for each violation of any one of these provisions allows for a maximum of 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for perpetrators, except for an adult attending an animal fighting venture. Penalties for an adult in attendance are 1 year in prison and a $5,000 fine.
Both the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate are considering the Fighting Inhumane Gambling and High-Risk Trafficking (FIGHT) Act, and the authors hope to include the provision as an amendment to the pending Farm bill. Both pieces of legislation were driven by concerns for the barbarism of animal fighting, other criminal behavior commingled with it, and disease threats to poultry posed by transporting fighting roosters.
The FIGHT Act, amending Section 26 of the Animal Welfare Act, would enhance the enforcement opportunities by banning simulcasting and gambling of animal fighting ventures; halting the shipment of mature roosters (chickens only) shipped through the U.S. mail (it is already illegal to ship dogs through the mail), creating a citizen suit provision after proper notice to federal authorities to allow private right of action against illegal animal fighters, and enhancing forfeiture provisions to include real property for animal fighting crimes.