Judge rules state to take custody of birds allegedly used for cockfighting

Judge rules state to take custody of birds allegedly used for cockfighting
Source: KTRE Staff
Source: KTRE Staff
Source: KTRE Staff
Source: KTRE Staff

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - A justice of the peace has ruled the state is to take custody of 348 roosters, hens and chicks allegedly used for cockfighting and a Huntington man must take on the costs of the investigation and care of the birds.

During the hearing, law enforcement and animal cruelty officers testified about what they saw.

According to a previous East Texas News story, 17 people were arrested in connection to the alleged cockfighting operation. After the Angelina County Sheriff's Office received a citizen complaint, they conducted a two-week investigation and obtained a search warrant.

ACSO deputies collaborated with the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, the Dallas County District Attorney's Office, and the FBI to execute the search warrant.

Angelina County Sheriff Greg Sanches said all 17 of the people arrested in connection to the raid will be charged with cockfighting, which is a state-jail felony.

Justice of the Peace Esther Barger ruled the evidence was overwhelming that the birds were mistreated and that they will be seized by Dallas County District Attorney Art Munoz and his office. She also ruled Burl Jones, the respondent who attended the hearing and who was linked to the birds, must pay $11,000 in restitution.

Melanie Wade, the animal cruelty officer for the sheriff's office, said they received a call on April 16 from a concerned citizen about possible cockfighting. She said after she contacted her superiors at the sheriff's office, she got in touch with DPS and a Dallas County District Attorney office that specializes in animal cruelty cases.

During her testimony, Wade explained that she went in with the "second wave" of the raid on the alleged cockfighting operation. She told the judge that she saw a dying rooster with a broken leg and several cocks in pens. She also said the smell from the urine and feces was "ungodly."

In addition Wade testified that she saw blood and feathers inside a pit as if birds had just been fighting. Plus, Wade observed gaffs, or items put on birds' legs during cockfights.

Paul Bickerstaff, an investigator with the Angelina County Sheriff's Office, said that the warrant they obtained included animal seizure. He testified that they had an undercover DPS surveillance team take pictures and videos of the residence at 224 Clark Rd. in Huntington where the alleged cockfighting operation was based.

Bickerstaff said that he heard cheering and yelling. The ACSO investigator said have photographic evidence of the house, pit, the metal cylinder where the dead chickens were burned, blood, and the gaffs and slashers used in chicken fighting. In addition, Bickerstaff said he found gambling ledgers and $6,000 in cash.

When the law enforcement officers arrived on the scene, people scattered, Bickerstaff said. He said one man ran with chickens in his hand.

Lt. Pete Maskunas, ACSO's supervisor of criminal investigation, said they used aerial photos from a DPS aircraft to get the license plate numbers from the vehicles parked at the house on Clark Road. Then on the next day, they ran those plates and went to each respective residence, where they found evidence of gamecock birds being raised, Maskunas said.

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