By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
’Tis the season, according to police — the season for cockfighting, that is.
“We’re asking for the public’s help if they know of any cockfight games that are going on in their areas,” Lt. Burt Shimabukuro, commander of the Hilo Vice Division said Tuesday.
The “season” for this illegal activity traditionally runs from Thanksgiving through the July 4 weekend, police said in a written statement.
“The season just started back in November. Birds tend to molt in the off-season, which is after July,” Shimabukuro noted.
Cockfighting involves attaching razor-sharp gaffs to the legs of roosters. The birds are then left to fight one or more opponents until all but one are either dead or so savagely wounded they cannot continue.
“With cockfighting comes gambling and a bunch of other organized crime activities, which isn’t good,” said Lt. Sherry Bird, commander of the Kona Vice Division. Both Bird and Shimabukuro said that one of those activities is “protection” for the organizer of cockfights.
Those who participate are subject to arrest for gambling, possession of gambling records and cruelty to animals, police said.
Shimabukuro said cockfighting is “an issue that has been ongoing for years,” but added that making arrests, even if police know the activity is going on, can be problematic, since the legal issue of whether or not a cockfight is occurring is “not as cut-and-dried as you’d like it to be.”
“You’ve got to actually catch somebody physically doing the cockfighting, in possession of the cock with the gaffs on,” he said.
Cockfighting arrests are rare on the Big Island. The last reported arrest for cockfighting took place on May 29, 2011, at a macadamia nut orchard in Pahala. Police reported seeing 75 vehicles and about 150 people at the site, and officers found 20 dead roosters, plus injured roosters, rooster boxes, gaffs, cockfighting paraphernalia and gambling records. Officers also seized $7,737 in cash.
Five men were arrested in the raid. A 31-year-old Oahu man was charged with cruelty to animals, gambling possessing gambling records, a 51-year-old Pahala man was charged with gambling and possessing gambling records, a 31-year-old Pahala man was charged with three counts of cruelty to animals, and a 37-year-old Naalehu man and a 69-year-old Ocean View man were both charged with two counts of cruelty to animals.
Shimabukuro said that while there are occasionally reports of cockfights in Hilo, they usually occur “in the rural areas where’s there’s less public access.” He also said that the numbers of participants, gamblers and spectators vary from venue to venue.
“There are different sizes to the games,” he said. “Sometimes, it’s in a back yard where you have just a few people, but it can go up to where there is more than 100 people involved.”
He said that in Hawaii, cockfight participants and spectators come from all ethnicities and cultures, but that family ties are often involved when it comes to breeding and fighting gamecocks.
“It’s something that’s passed down in the family, generation to generation,” Shimabukuro said.
Cockfighting is considered second-degree cruelty to animals, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail. Promoting gambling can be either a Class C felony punishable by up to five years in prison or a misdemeanor, based on the number of bets and the amount of money, while commercial gambling is a misdemeanor.
Possession of gamecocks, possession of gaffs not attached to a bird and being a spectator at a cockfight without gambling, are not illegal activities, according to a chart published by the Humane Society of the United States.
It is illegal, however, under federal law to import gaffs into the U.S. On Feb. 2, 2008, a 39-year-old man from Louisiana — where cockfighting was legal at the time — was arrested by U.S. Customs agents for bringing in 263 gaffs from the Philippines, hidden inside portable gas stoves.
Joseph Marty Toralba was convicted on the felony charge and sentenced to 60 days in jail and a year supervised release, the federal equivalent of probation.
Cockfighting is now illegal in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Cockfighting is legal on Guam, which is a U.S. territory, but only at a licensed establishment.
Police encourage the public to report any information about scheduled cockfights, their locations or persons involved, by calling Shimabukuro in East Hawaii at 961-2253 or Detective Chad Taniyama in West Hawaii at 326-4646, ext. 271. Those who prefer anonymity may call Crime Stoppers at 961-8300 or 329-8181 in Kona and may be eligible for a reward of up to $1,000.
“If anybody has information, they’re more than welcome to call us,” Bird said.
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.