CORCORAN — A Corcoran man was arrested Friday in connection with an elaborate cockfighting operation on his property, the Kings County Sheriff’s Office said.
Around 8:46 p.m., deputies responded to an illegal rooster fight in the 23600 block of Ninth Avenue. The sheriff’s office said dozens of people ran away from the location when deputies arrived. Deputies detained the homeowner, Santiago Gonzalez, 34, for questioning and subsequently found a cockfighting ring in a structure behind his home.
Gonzalez was arrested and booked into the Kings County Jail on suspicion of 36 counts of animal cruelty, 18 counts of unlawful possession of gaffs or slashers, one count of owning fighting birds and one count of permitting cockfighting on one’s property. He is being held with bail set at $1 million.
Kings County Animal Services Manager Cassie Heffington said dozens of birds were inside a makeshift building covered by a tarp. Heffington said there were at least 20 dead roosters in the building, along with several others that were injured.
“When we got there, there were still some that had knives on them,” Heffington said.
Fighting roosters often have metal blades, known as “gaffs,” taped to their legs to enhance their fighting abilities. Heffington said many of the birds were trying to attack as animal control officers worked to capture them. The ones with gaffs had to be corralled and captured using extra caution.
“You have to be very quick and know where to grab,” Heffington said.
Heffington said fighting roosters are usually the result of many generations of breeding between highly aggressive hens and roosters. The birds can’t be placed in new homes because of the danger they pose to people and other animals, she said.
The sheriff's office said Kings County Animal Services ultimately euthanized more than 60 fighting roosters.
“I truly don’t understand why someone would find it amusing to watch two animals fight each other to death,” Heffington said.
Other hens and roosters on the property were left in the care of other residents at the home. Heffington said officers will return to assess the living conditions for those animals. Animal services officers did not seize the birds because they were not in any immediate danger, Heffington said.
This is the second time in the past year that a cockfighting ring has been discovered in the Corcoran area.
Last April, the Kings County Sheriff’s Office served a search warrant in the 23000 block of 5 1/2 Avenue, also located near Corcoran, after investigating a suspected cockfighting operation. Animal control officers seized more than 100 roosters and hens, some of which had fresh wounds from fighting. Authorities also seized a significant amount of rooster fighting paraphernalia.
Most of the fighting roosters from that operation had to be euthanized due to their injuries. Heffington said authorities seized about 75 hens and chicks that were placed in new homes.
Sheriff’s Cmdr. Mark Bevens said the close proximity of the two sites is likely coincidental. Bevens said cockfighting rings tend to pop up in remote locations where they can be concealed.
“It’s an underground sport, like drugs are an underground business,” Bevens said.
The sheriff’s office has shut down a number of other rooster fighting operations around the county:
- August 2006 – Four people were arrested in the 18500 block of Kent Avenue, south of Lemoore, after sheriff’s deputies arrived just before a cockfight began.
- December 2010 – Thirteen people were arrested in connection with a rooster fighting operation near Seventh Avenue and Grangeville Boulevard, east of Hanford. More than 100 fighting roosters were seized and euthanized.
- January 2012 – Deputies detained more than 20 suspects in connection with a cockfighting ring behind a home in the 9200 block of Houston Avenue. Animal control seized 44 fighting roosters, all of which were euthanized. Authorities also seized fighting paraphernalia, syringes and bottles containing liquid believed to be steroids.
Bevens said it can be difficult to stop a cockfighting ring, even once authorities suspect the illegal activity is happening. Authorities need probable cause in the form of surveillance, witness statements or related arrests to obtain a search warrant.