Phoenix police raided the home of a man suspected of raising roosters for cockfighting, finding about 45 birds and other evidence of the banned blood sport.
Carlos German Vasquez-Morales, 30, was booked into jail on suspicion of 45 felony counts, then released with a pending court date.
The investigation began in mid-September when the Arizona Humane Society received a tip about Vasquez-Morales and sent a technician to the man's house at 2843 North 57th Drive.
Peeking over a back fence, the technician saw numerous roosters in a yard, some tethered to the ground, others in coops. Some of the birds had the fleshy tissue of their waddles and combs removed — a possible sign they'd been groomed for fighting. A man was seen sitting on a chair "holding a detached chicken leg with a gaff/blade attached to it," records state.
Following an investigation, Phoenix police served a search warrant at 10 a.m. Tuesday, reportedly confirming much of what the technician had observed. Cops found more leg-blades in the suspect's bedroom, including one on top of a stack of "game foul" magazines in the bathroom.
Detailed ledgers on the activity were found, listing types of feed, names, and ages of birds. On another page, the birds' names appeared next to dollar amounts. A shed in the backyard contained "injectable supplements and vitamins commonly used in cockfighting operations," records say, plus scales for weighing birds and a jar of leg bands.
Vasquez-Morales admitted to police that he takes care of the roosters but said "they are for show only" and denied he knew anything about the leg blades. A detached chicken leg found by police "is for good luck," he told police, adding that he "sells the roosters to people in Mexico for about $100 each."
The Arizona Humane Society declined comment on the case because of the ongoing investigation.
In general, the Humane Society says, it wants to see cockfighters "punished to the fullest extent of the law."
Even if convicted, though, Vasquez-Morales may not be punished that severely. In June, a Phoenix man found with more roosters than Vasquez-Morales, plus lots of evidence of cockfighting, initially was booked into jail on suspicion of 71 counts of animal cruelty. In August, he pleaded guilty to one count of cockfighting, reduced to a Class Six (or lowest-level) felony. He received a sentence of two years' probation. Tena's roosters were euthanized, the inevitable end for the roosters of Vasquez-Morales, too.
Arizona was one of the last states in the country to make cockfighting illegal. The majority of states had banned the sport before Arizona became a state in 1912. But because of the state's conservative bent and influence of Mexico, where cockfighting remains legal and popular to this day, the Arizona Legislature resisted 23 attempts to make it illegal over 45 years.
A citizens initiative pushed by animal-rights groups finally made it onto the Arizona ballot in 1998. That year, former New Times writer David Holthouse wrote about one of the state's last legal cockfights, describing the secretive world of the blood games and the people who watched and bet on them.
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"On this night, more than 250 cockfighting devotees, including dozens of families with children, have come to watch the feathers—and blood and dust and guts—fly.
"The great majority of the crowd is of Mexican descent, a mix of vatos in their 20s, dressed in baggy work pants, sport team jerseys and gold chains, and caballero characters, wearing tight jeans, pointed boots, fancy Western or work shirts, and big belt buckles.
"There's also a smattering of Anglo faces, mostly retired working men and their wives, and about 30 Filipinos (including one anesthesiologist) who occupy one corner of the bleachers. They watch the action squatting on their haunches."
Many Arizonans didn't see a need for a legal ban. Some Arizona families could boast multiple generations of cockfighting activity. Supporters argued in a voting guide to keep the "ancient sport" free and legal.
But in the later initiative, 68 percent of Arizonans voted to ban the practice, making felons of anyone who raised roosters for cockfighting or ran cockfights. Attending a cockfight was made a misdemeanor.
Prohibitions haven't wiped out the sport in the Arizona or the United States, however. News reports from the last few months detail raids and arrests related to cockfighting in several states.