Sunday's cockfighting raid in western York County could fuel efforts to stiffen penalties for participants in the so-called bloodsport, animal rights activists said Monday.
"I think this raid should lead South Carolina to make cockfighting a felony," said John Goodwin, manager of animal fighting issues for the Humane Society of the United States. "Cockfighting is a severe form of animal cruelty."
Sunday morning, local and state law enforcement officers charged 33 individuals with misdemeanors related to a large cockfight at a home at 233 Howell Road, west of York near the Cotton Belt community. A police report states deputies were tipped off to the fight by an anonymous source on Thursday.
After surrounding the area, officials swooped in after the fights were underway Sunday morning. In addition to the arrests, deputies seized 36 live roosters and two dead roosters, the report states. Authorities also found what is believed to be performance enhancing drugs and syringes for the birds and five tackle boxes of gaffs, which are sharp, spur-like pieces of metal or blades fastened to the roosters' claws during a fight.
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More than $4,000 in cash also was seized, the report states.
The Herald attempted to contact the suspects Monday, but those involved either could not be reached or declined to comment.
Because most fight spectators gamble on the events, activists say South Carolina's maximum penalty of a $1,000 fine or 30 days in jail isn't tough enough. Goodwin said the winner's pot at many fights is worth more than $10,000, meaning a $1,000 fine could be viewed as part of the cost of business instead of an effective deterrent.
News of the York County raid reached the Humane Society's office in Washington, D.C., and Goodwin said the agencies responsible for the bust should be applauded. But, he cautioned that cockfight organizers will likely regroup without stiffer penalties.
"The real problem is the anemic law in South Carolina," he said. "You have to offset the gains with bigger fines."
State Rep. Herb Kirsh of Clover, who represents much of western York County, could not be reached for comment Monday.
Goodwin said cockfighting in Georgia and North Carolina is considered a felony and carries harsher penalties, making the Palmetto State a haven for cockfighting. However, all of the known participants in Sunday's fight were South Carolina residents, authorities said.
'Very tight-knit group'
But despite some concerns, misdemeanor status isn't keeping law enforcement from cracking down.
"It's criminal activity," York County Sheriff's Lt. Jerry Hoffman said. "It's important for people to know that the Sheriff's Office will enforce the law whether it's a felony or a misdemeanor. Honestly, it never crossed our mind that we should enforce the law any less because it's only a misdemeanor."
Hoffman would not comment on how prevalent cockfighting is in York County, saying any additional information could tip off other suspects.
"They're a very tight-knit group," he said. "If we know of others going on out there, you can be sure we're investigating."
The 36 roosters involved in Sunday's fight are being held as evidence by authorities, Hoffman said. He said the animals were receiving proper care and would have their temperament analyzed before being released.