UPPER LAKE, LAKE COUNTY – 5 men and a 17-year-old from the California Central Valley area were arrested traveling through Upper Lake in preparation for a big fighting match. The problem was they were headed for a cockfight, an illegal match that pits artificially armed roosters against each other in battles to the death.
On Sunday night, at 8:40 pm, Lake County deputies saw a green Ford Expedition headed west along Highway 20 with a defective brake light. According to Steve Brooks of the Sheriff’s office, the deputy pulled the vehicle over near Old Lake County Road, and asked the driver, 31-year-old Anthony Alarcon Jimenez for his license and registration. As the front seat passenger, Ociel Mendez, 26, opened the glove compartment, a hypodermic syringe was revealed. The deputy, noticing this, what looked like some loose marijuana on the floor, and the odor of marijuana drifting out of the car, had enough probable cause to initiate a search of the vehicle and occupants.
The deputies had the occupants of the vehicle get out. In addition to Jimenez and Mendez from Merced, the passengers were Oscar Salvio Barajas, 35 of Chowcilla, Valentine Valencia Chavez, 37 of Stockton, Francisco Zavala Infante, 28 of Los Angeles, and the 17-year-old. The search of the Expedition revealed no more drugs, but there was $24,000 in cash just sitting on the floor. None of the six claimed ownership or said they knew anything about it. Another $42,000 was found on the suspects, bringing the cash total to $66,000.
In the back of the SUV were nine cardboard boxes, each containing a rooster, with its weight noted on the box. Lake County Animal Control officers were summoned to the scene to help. The roosters had been altered, apparently for fighting purposes. Their wattles and combs had been cut off the birds in a processed called dubbing. This is a common procedure for fighting birds because those areas bleed easily, which can interfere with their fighting abilities. The birds also appeared to have visible head and beak injuries consistent with fighting birds. The animals were transported to the County Animal Control facility for care and holding.
The deputies also found a bag containing razor sharp spur blades, which are attached to a rooster’s leg as weapons when they are sent into battle. Some of the blades appeared to have dried blood on them. The bag also held leather blade covers so the birds can “spar” before the fight without doing permanent damage to each other.
During interviews the men told the deputies that they had come up from the Valley for a “Rooster Show” but never made it. One of them had previously been to such a show, in reality a cockfight, at a ranch somewhere off Highway 20.
Cockfighting has been relatively unknown in Lake County, with only one incident recorded from 2008 to 2013, according to the Humane Society. It is more prevalent in the Southern California Counties of Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside and San Diego. This incident, and their reports of fights going on, should bring new attention to the issue to local law enforcement and animal control. Penalties for engaging, hosting, supporting, viewing or participating in cockfighting have recently been increased, with penalties up to $25,000 and up to 3 years prison time. It can also qualify for federal animal welfare prosecution.
The five men were all charged with cruelty to animals, making or taking bets on a contest, possession of fighting bird equipment, possession of fighting roosters, and permitting a bird fight. They were all booked at the Lake County Hill Road Correctional facility, while their minor companion was booked at Juvenile Hall on charges of possession of fighting bird equipment, possession of fighting roosters. The $66,000.00 in cash, apparently for use as gambling money on the fights, was seized for potential asset forfeiture if it is proven to be proceeds from illegal activity.
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