Fowl Play

Pious animal-rights activists can't take the fight out of the gamecock

About three weeks ago, on March 27, Maricopa County sheriff's deputies conducted the first major roundup of Valley cockfighting perverts since Proposition 201 became a law. They raided a backyard cockfight at a private residence in west Phoenix, where 50 suspects, most of Mexican descent, were arrested and charged with attending a cockfight.

The owner of the home, Victor Espinosa, was also charged with felonious hosting of a cockfight.

Other than this recent bust, the only tangible achievement of Arizona's anti-cockfighting law has been the closure of the state's 10 established cockfighting arenas, which had scoreboards, bleachers and concession stands. This hasn't quelled the big cockfighting action, though, only shifted it a few hundred miles east.

Mark Poutenis

Cockfighting is legal in New Mexico, and Arizona breeders undeterred by the loose "raising with intent to fight" wording of the law against their sport now truck their birds to New Mexico for multi-day tournaments, just as cockfighters from Utah and California used to come to Arizona.

Smaller cockfighting events in the Valley, Tucson and in rural Arizona maintained a low profile before they were against the law, and continue the tradition now. These sporadic, single-night, word-of-mouth events are held in the Valley in temporary pits secreted in gravel quarries and on private ranch land.

So far, the only busts have been in Espinosa's west Phoenix neighborhood, which has more pressing crime problems than a bunch of guys getting together to drink beer and fight birds.

Espinosa is the second Valley resident to be charged with a felony for cockfighting. The first was Catraino Perez, who was arrested last August after a grand jury indicted him for hosting a cockfight Phoenix police reported breaking up three months earlier, eight blocks from Espinosa's place on Alta Vista Road.

Perez, a drywaller from Mexico, was assigned a public defender who immediately challenged the constitutionality of the anti-cockfighting law. Prosecutors offered to let Perez plead guilty to "attempted cockfighting," a less serious crime, but still a felony. Perez refused, then accepted a deal where he pleaded to the misdemeanor charge of attending a cockfight and was fined $200.

Espinosa should hope for similar treatment, and an indication that county prosecutors recognize the law against cockfighting for what it is: chicken shit.

Contact David Holthouse at his online address:

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