Washington, D.C. — Today, Animal Wellness Action reacted with shock and alarm to an administrative commission determination that Guam Department of Agriculture law enforcement officer Ken San Nicolas would be fully reinstated in his position and given backpay even though acknowledging and conceding that he participated in illegal cockfighting. Staging an animal fight is a federal felony, with penalties of up to 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine per violation.
In the wake of this outrageous and wrong-headed decision, Animal Wellness Action has presented the ruling and the organization’s original investigative materials, including video in which he is shown fighting birds in a local fighting pit, to federal authorities, and asked them to prosecute Mr. San Nicolas under federal law.
Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action, issued the following statement:
“It’s an upside-down world when an official commission review makes a finding that an employee pictured in videos participating in illegal cockfighting is rewarded with reinstatement and backpay. Neither Mr. San Nicolas nor the leaders of the Guam Department of Agriculture are allowed to pick and choose which federal statutes they observe. Today, we are referring the evidence of felony violations of the federal animal fighting to the U.S. Department of Justice to take action against Mr. San Nicolas.”
In January 2022, the non-profit organization presented two videos to the leaders of the Guam Department of Agriculture (GDOA) showing Mr. San Nicolas participating in a cockfight. Animal Wellness Action called on GDOA to terminate Mr. San Nicolas for his felony violations of law but the Director refused to take that action, indicating instead that the department would conduct an investigation into the allegations.
The June 2021 videos show Mr. San Nicolas holding a rooster with knives on his legs at the center of a cockfighting pit and then releasing the bird to fight, with masked spectators seated around the center ring calling outside bets. Mr. San Nicolas’s fighting animal then slashes the other armed animal in the center ring, with the other bird going down in a heap. At the time, Mr. San Nicolas was a Commodity Inspector with the GDOA, one of a handful of trained and sworn law enforcement officers within that division.
A whistleblower presented the videos to Animal Wellness Action because he had no confidence that the leadership of the GDOA would treat the matter in a serious-minded way. It turns out he was correct. The department’s leadership had long abetted illegal cockfighting. During the approximately five years Mr. San Nicolas has worked for the agency, the GDOA approved imports of 11,323 fighting animals onto Guam, with Director Chelsa Muna-Brecht (2019-present) asserting that her responsibilities do not include applying the federal law against animal fighting in any practical way.
Upon assuming her senior government position, however, Ms. Muna-Brecht swore an oath to “ … faithfully support the Constitution of the United States … and the laws of the United States applicable to Guam … .” Four federal courts have ruled that the United States has the authority to ban staged animal fighting on Guam and in all other jurisdictions of the country. In a recent order, the U.S. Supreme Court cemented those decisions by declining to hear an additional appeal.
Under Section 26 of the Animal Welfare Act, 7 U.S.C. 2156, it is a crime to:
- Knowingly sponsor or exhibit in an animal 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 use 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.
The ban on transporting fighting birds to Guam has been in place since 2002, and a felony since 2007. The ban on anyone staging an animal fighting took effect in December 2019, and that, too, is a felony, along with operating a cockfighting facility.
Animal Wellness Action seeks additional tips on illegal cockfighting at firstname.lastname@example.org. The organization maintains the website, www.endcockfighting.org, a comprehensive resource about the subject and an action center for citizens who want to help combat these animal cruelty crimes.