19 arrested after deputies find large-scale cockfighting ring

SAN JACINTO COUNTY, Texas — Deputies arrested 19 people last month after a report of animal cruelty led them to a “large scale” illegal cockfighting operation, according to the San Jacinto County Sheriff’s Office.

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Authorities said they found as many as 300 people gathered in Cleveland, Texas, to watch or participate in the cockfighting on the afternoon of Oct. 15. Most of those people ran into the woods when they saw deputies, officials said, abandoning about 100 vehicles at the scene.

Investigators found a large wooden structure with a cockfighting arena, wooden bleachers, lawn chairs and a kitchen or concession stand underneath, officials said. They also found a dry erase board that showed there had already been 44 matches or fights between the birds earlier in the day, according to the sheriff’s office.

Deputies seized 96 roosters from dozens of vehicles, cages and transport boxes found on the property, as well from four custom transport trailers that had been equipped with wooden pens, lights and air conditioning, officials said. Authorities also seized “gaffs,” knife-like objects that are affixed to a rooster’s spurs so that the bird can cut or stab its opponent in a cockfighting match, from the trailers and from vehicles.

“Several roosters were found still wearing ‘gaffs’ in their cages,” deputies added.

Officials said they also found “several dozen dead roosters located adjacent to vehicles and/or trailers where live roosters were also located.”

Authorities ultimately towed more than 75 vehicles from the scene, 22 of which were slated to be released back to their registered owners.

All but one of the 19 people arrested at the scene is facing a charge of observing cockfighting. One person, identified as Jonathan Briceno-Garcia, faces charges of participating in cockfighting, possession of a controlled substance identified as less than one gram of cocaine and possession of marijuana.

Deputies said that at least five people were expected to be charged with crimes ranging from felony animal cruelty to misdemeanor illegal gambling. Seven of those arrested are believed to be undocumented immigrants, and some could face federal gun charges, according to authorities.

“This is an ongoing investigation with a large amount of investigative work yet to be conducted,” deputies said last month in a news release.

“The San Jacinto County Sheriff’s Office is working diligently to identify the suspects that fled the scene which were either participating in the cock fighting and/or animal cruelty, as well as those that were there to observe the cock fighting and/or animal cruelty. Those found to have been at the scene will be charged to the maximum extent the law allows.”