Cockfighting foes face hard fight to keep Oklahoma initiative gains
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2003:
OKLAHOMA CITY–Oklahoma cockfighters are not just taking
their battle to stay in business to the state Supreme Court; they
are trying to take the state Supreme Court off the case.
Oklahoma voters approved an initiative banning cockfighting
in November 2002, 56%-44%, but in 57 sparsely populated rural
counties, of 77 counties in all, the majority voted to keep
Local judges in 27 of the 57 rural counties soon thereafter
held the anti-cockfighting initiative to have been unconstitutional.
The first prosecution under the initiative was attempted by
the Kingfisher County sheriff’s department in early December, after
one Luis Rangel was found with more than 100 suspected gamecocks
while sheriffs’ deputies were investigating an alleged case of horse
neglect. But Kingfisher County assistant district attorney Ard Gates
on December 5 refused to press the case against Rangel.
Attempting to bring order out of the chaos, Oklahoma
attorney general Drew Edmondson eventually took the question of the
constitutionality of the anti-cockfighting initiative directly to the
state Supreme Court, bypassing the intermediate court levels.
On January 24, however, Tulsa attorney Larry Oliver,
representing the cockfighters, asked the state Supreme Court
justices to recuse themselves, contending that they had previously
displayed bias by repeatedly ruling that the initiative could go
before the voters.
On February 1 the Oklahoma Supreme Court assigned referee Gregory W.
Albert to review the petition for recusal.
“Albert was the referee assigned by the Supreme Court in 1999
to hear the cockfighters’ challenges to the initiative petition,”
recalled John Greiner of the Oklahoma City Oklahoman. “Albert ruled
that the petition lacked sufficient valid signatures to be placed on
the ballot. The Supreme Court later validated the petition.”
Passage of the Oklahoma initiative left only two states, New
Mexico and Louisiana, which still have legal cockfighting –and with
polls showing that up to 77% of the New Mexico voters would favor a
cockfighting ban, New Mexico animal advocates believe obtaining a
ban there is just a matter of time.
But cockfighters are full of tricks. Circuit Judge Hubert
Lindsey, of Palm Beach County, Florida, in December 2001 dismissed
the charges against alleged dogfighters Seve Rousseau and Rousselet
Alphonse, because the sheriff’s deputies who found eight pit bulls,
stacks of cash, and 60 spectators on their premises had served the
search warrant after sundown. As cockfights are traditionally held
after dark, cockfighting sympathizers in the Florida legislature
had long ago quietly amended the Florida anti-cruelty statute to
prevent service of warrants in cruelty cases after sundown, except
by special judicial order.
Similar politics were visible in the Virginia legislature in
January, where–even though cockfighting is illegal in Virginia–
cockfighters obliged delegate Rob Bell to omit language pertaining to
cockfighting from an anti-dogfighting bill.
The Oklahoma anti-cockfighting initiative has also run into
recent legislative repeal attempts, as have an anti-canned hunting
initiative approved by Montana voters in 2000 and the Washington
state anti-trapping initiative approved the same year.
As ANIMAL PEOPLE went to press, the Oklahoma repeal effort
was deferred pending the outcome of the state Supreme Court case.
The Montana repeal proposal had been amended into an attempt to
compensate former canned hunt proprietors for going-out-of-business
costs. The fate of the Washington repeal bill appeared uncertain.
Three animal protection laws adopted by state legislatures in
2002 have also run into challenges to their enforcability.
“The first local test of Colorado’s new felony animal cruelty
law proved that it doesn’t have the teeth necessary to charge
suspected offenders for the greater penalty,” Boulder Daily Camera
staff writer Mary Butler observed in November 2002, after University
of Colorado student Garrett Parker Brodie, 22, was charged with
misdemeanor cruelty for allegedly killing his girlfriend’s puppy.
“Prosecutors decided against charging the felony,” Butler wrote,
“because they feared that the new legislation, approved in July, is
Judge Edward Turner III of Floyd County, Virginia,
“regretfully” sent a felony cruelty charge against Lloyd D. Kempa Jr.
to a grand jury in November 2002, and the grand jury agreed with him
on December 2, refusing to indict Kempa for admittedly shooting a
new neighbor’s wandering German shepherd.
JoGenia Sexton, 47, of Anchorage, in December reportedly
decided on behalf of other alleged wolf hybrid breeders to challenge
a new Alaska law forbidding the sale, possession, or advertisement
of wolf hybrids. Sexton admits advertising her Malmute/husky/ German
shepherd mixed breed pups as “wolf dogs,” but contends that since
they are not actually wolf hybrids, the law does not apply .
The first test of a new Maryland felony cruelty statute was
successful, however, as Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Durke
G. Thompson on January 14 sentenced Rick Speight, 21, to serve 14
months in prison with 22 months suspended, spend two years on
probation, and get anger management counseling. Speight allegedly
beat a pit bull puppy to death on July 4, 2002.
Other bills adopted in late 2002:
California now requires pet stores to provide written
care-and-feeding instruction as part of the purchase of any animal;
requires the addition of a bittering agent to antifreeze to keep
animals and small children from drinking it; subjects animal blood
banks to state inspection; prohibits furbearer pelt sales by private
citizens as well as predator and nuisance animal trappers; and
requires all predator and nuisance animal trappers to be licensed.
Florida now allows petkeepers to provide for their companion animals
after their own deaths in designated trust funds. Sixteen other
states have similar laws.
Indiana now allows the felony prosecution of suspects accused
of “knowingly or intentionally” torturing, beating, or multilating”
any vertebrate animal, with a penalty of up to a year in jail on
conviction, plus a fine. Indiana also now punishes possession of
“animal fighting paraphernalia with intent to participate in an
animal fighting contest” as a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year
in jail, and if such possession occurs along with “harboring an
animal bearing scars or wounds consistent with participation in an
animal fighting contest,” the offense becomes a felony.
Massachusetts now requires suspects in cruelty and neglect
cases to post security bonds providing for the care of any animals
seized pending conviction or acquittal, and makes the animals
forfeit to the animal care agencies looking after them if the proper
bonds are not posted.
New Jersey now prohibits debarking dogs except when necessary
“to protect the life or health of the dog.”
New York now forbids the slaughter of dogs and cats for human
consumption, and requires people who keep wild or potentially
dangerous animals such as exotic cats, primates, crocodilians,
venomous snakes, and wolf hybrids to notify local police and fire
departments of their presence.
Ohio in December 2002 gained the first comprehensive update
of the state anti-cruelty statute since 1877–but it exempts farmers
and hunters. Under the old law, a 1996 Ohio State University study
found, only 85 of 25,000 animal cruelty cases reported that year got
as far as prosecution.