Law enforcement executed a search warrant yesterday and are pursuing individuals involved in the biggest cockfighting event in recent memory in Delaware
Washington, D.C. – Today, Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK) and Animal Wellness Action called on Delaware law enforcement to follow through with an investigation into illegal cockfighting after SHARK droned a fighting derby in progress in Felton, Delaware that had attracted more than 70 participants. Not a single person was apprehended at the fighting venue in Kent County after Delaware State Police failed to respond with appropriate personnel to make arrests. SHARK is releasing exclusive drone footage of the event, showing kids in attendance, mutilated birds, and a rapid break-up of the fight after a single officer from Delaware Animal Services showed up.
The Illinois-based SHARK received a tip about the long-planned event and sent a team of investigators on Saturday late afternoon on May 8, catching a fighting derby in progress with perhaps 70 attendees.
Cockfighting and associated activities (e.g., possessing fighting animals or cockfighting paraphernalia and attending a cockfight) are felony offenses under state law. It is also a federal felony to operate a cockfighting venue, to possess fighting animals, to bring a minor to a fight, and to participate in animal fighting activities.
“Cockfighters are organized and conducting illegal activities at a number of locations in the state,” said Steve Hindi, president of SHARK and who droned the event a week from Saturday and led his team. “We are disappointed that when we alerted Troop 3 of the Delaware State Police to a fight in progress, the agency did not respond with a group of properly armed police officers to interdict a fighting set-up where 70 people had gathered for the spectacle.”
Instead, a single vehicle, with a single Delaware Animal Services officer, arrived at the property. Given that there were an estimated 30-40 vehicles on the property, the single, unarmed officer was ill-equipped to handle the situation.
Once the officer arrived, the cockfighters fled. No back-up arrived to prevent the exodus and make arrests that warrant felony-level penalties.
“Delaware Animal Services has responded to our requests and is now conducting a thorough investigation and we call on concerned citizens to provide intelligence and help them apprehend individuals who appear on our video,” added Hindi.
“It was a missed opportunity that state police did not respond with the law enforcement personnel needed to arrest the entire cast of characters committing felony offenses against animals,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action. “That said, there is sufficient evidence to bring charges against the operators of this illegal fighting venue and to shut it down for good, so no animals are hacked to death in this barn in the future.”
Cockfighting involves the use of specific breeds of roosters who are then trained and drugged to heighten their aggression, they have razor-sharp blades or stabbing gaffs strapped to their legs, and they are goaded to fight in a pit from which they cannot escape.
Losing birds are discarded as garbage, sometimes while they are still alive. “We documented mutilated birds pulled from the fighting pits and then bludgeoned or hit with the blade of a hatchet outside of the barn,” noted Hindi. ‘These cockfighters were so callous and deadened to the suffering of animals that they didn’t even finish the job, and some of the birds languished or thrashed in the pile of dead birds they dumped in a front-end loader.”
Driven by concerns for the barbarism of animal fighting, mass shootings and other crimes comingled with staged animal combat, as well as disease threats to poultry and other birds posed by illegal transports of fighting roosters, U.S. Senators Cory Booker, D-N.J., and John Kennedy, R-La., introduced legislation last week to strengthen the federal law against dogfighting and cockfighting just last week. Their bill is a companion to H.R. 2742, introduced in April by U.S. Reps. Don Bacon, R-Neb., and Andrea Salinas, D-Ore. Their bipartisan, bicameral legislation is entitled the Fighting Inhumane Gambling and High-Risk Trafficking (FIGHT) Act.
The FIGHT Act, amending Section 26 of the Animal Welfare Act, would enhance enforcement opportunities by banning simulcasting of and gambling on animal fighting ventures; halting the shipment of mature roosters (chickens only) through the U.S. mail (shipping dogs by mail is already illegal); creating a private right of action against illegal animal fighters; and allowing for forfeiture of property assets used in animal fighting crimes.
Illegal gambling is the point of cockfighting, and tax evasion is inevitable. Beside the deadly and gross animal cruelty, cockfighting is connected to other crimes, including illegal drugs, weapons, and human trafficking, and further, gang and cartel activities.
Cockfighting poses a public health risk due to the birds being transported to various illegal fight locations, including across state lines, absent the usual safety precautions practiced by commercial poultry operations. Avian flu, Newcastle disease and various other zoonotic diseases can be passed from traveling fighting birds via humans, some of whom may work in poultry operations, which can then threaten the human food supply. The risk of disease transmission is especially glaring at the property in question as numerous commercial poultry operations are visible in the drone documentation of the illegal cockfight. A review of a Google Maps satellite view reveals many more of these commercial operations all around the cockfight pit neighborhood.
“Animal movements by people are the most important risk factor for spread of domestic animal infectious diseases,” according to Thomas Pool, DVM, MPH, DACVPM, the former Territorial Veterinarian for Guam and now the senior veterinarian with Animal Wellness Action, “If cockfighting birds are infected, they have the potential to expand the geography and duration of viral outbreaks throughout the U.S. and the world, and it’s a very dangerous set-up to have cockfights, with birds brought to a derby from around the state and the nation, taking place within a mile of massive poultry barns.” A report by Dr. Jim Keen and Dr. Pool on cockfighting and avian diseases can be found here.
Andrea Keen’s husband is Billy Charles Keen, Jr. and he works for the State of Delaware as a DOT Maintenance Area Supervisor II. Mr. Keen was not at the illegal cockfight on May 6, but confidential inside sources told us he is intimately involved in the illegal cockfighting operation on a normal basis.
Public records indicate the owner of 3133 Sandtown Road is Andrea Keen, aka Andrea Aligo-Keen. Mrs. Keen, 43 years old, has been employed by the Delaware Department of Education since January 2022, as an Instructional Support Technician. She apparently works with children. Prior to her job at the Department of Education, Mrs. Keen worked at the Delaware Division of Public Health as a Clinic Manager. The Division of Health includes, ironically, Animal Services.