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Oklahoma cockfighting controversy escalates to criminal accusations

{p}Oklahomans voted to outlaw the act in 2002, but House Bill 3283 aims to amend the law to lessen the punishment for cockfighting from a felony to a misdemeanor. (KOKH){/p}

Oklahomans voted to outlaw the act in 2002, but House Bill 3283 aims to amend the law to lessen the punishment for cockfighting from a felony to a misdemeanor. (KOKH)

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The fight over reducing cockfighting penalties in Oklahoma has escalated to opposing groups accusing each other of crimes.

House Bill 2530 and Senate Bill 1006, which share identical wording, already passed their respective committees and will soon head to the floor for a vote.

If passed, they would give counties the option to reduce cockfighting from a felony to a misdemeanor.

Rarely does criminal justice reform involve both sides of the issue accusing each other of criminal activity.

Well, State Rep. Justin Humphrey (R-Lane) said it’s criminal justice reform.

“We’ve had many laws, like heroin and fentanyl, reduced to a misdemeanor,” he asserted to the State House Judiciary Committee. “And so what we’re trying to do is just get fairness, and create fairness in punishment.”

Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action, rejected the notion. He claimed it’s just a cover for crime.

“The law itself would have a maximum fine of $500,” he said, “when some of these people sell thousands of fighting birds per year, with one bird potentially going for $2-3,000. This would just be a minor cost of doing business for them.”

Former Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson said Rep. Humphrey misses the point.

“At no time in the history of the State of Oklahoma,” he claimed, “has the Oklahoma Legislature given an option to counties to take felonies and reduce them to misdemeanors. And there’s no reason to do this for the blood sport of cockfighting.”

“The problem is not that the laws are too harsh,” he elaborated. “The problem is that they’re not being effectively enforced.”

The animal rights group Showing Animals Respect and Kindness, or S.H.A.R.K., sent NewsChannel 8 drone footage of several alleged cockfighting farms.

S.H.A.R.K. president Steve Hindi claimed it’s evidence cockfighting continues to flourish in Oklahoma.

“Look at the enormity of this,” he exclaimed, gesturing to footage of hundreds of square rooster cages lined up on a rural property. “Nobody is going to raise this many of this breed of roosters for any purpose but fighting.”

“And if you take a look at, for instance, Anthony DeVore’s farm,” he continued, “he’s got a whole bunch of fighting roosters.”

Anthony DeVore is the president of the Oklahoma Gamefowl Commission, a political action committee instrumental in the push to reduce penalties for cockfighting.

The O.G.C. released a statement on Facebook, admitting its leaders “raise, sell, and export gamefowl overseas,” but claimed it’s done “legally” and “for breeding purposes only.”

Pacelle, however, asserted the O.G.C.’s motivations are clear.

“The leadership of the Oklahoma Gamefowl Commission are enthusiastic, avid, engaged cockfighters,” he said.

“The fact that a lawmaker has a donation from that group doesn’t mean that the lawmaker is beholden to that group,” he continued. “But it’s clear that the Oklahoma Gamefowl Commission is trying to influence lawmakers. And clearly, they have influenced a few lawmakers at least.”

Rep. Humphrey, and fellow Rep. Josh Cantrell (R-Kingston), sent letters to county sheriff asking for Edmondson, Hindi, and Pacelle to be arrested.

The letters, shared publicly by the O.G.C., claimed the activists’ use of drone footage violated H.B. 3171. The law, codified in 2022, makes it a misdemeanor to violate an individual’s reasonable expectation of privacy using a drone.

Both letters penned by Humphrey and Cantrell cited NewsChannel 8’s coverage as evidence of illegal activity.

Edmondson countered that if the two lawmakers wanted to see criminals, they should look at the hand that feeds.

“I served in the legislature a long time ago,” he said, “but I remember my service well. I would’ve been ashamed to learn that a political action committee check that reached me came from people who are engaged in illegal activities.”

State filings show the O.G.C. has given over $41,000 to Oklahoma politicians, including Gov. Stitt, Sen. Markwayne Mullen, and the lawmakers who introduced H.B. 2530 and S.B. 1006. Pacelle urged those lawmakers to return the money, citing Oklahoma’s status as the “cockfighting capital of the United States.”

“It’s not just an Oklahoma problem,” he explained. “But based on our extensive investigations, we believe cockfighting here is bigger and more organized than in other venues. No other state has a cockfighter’s PAC.”


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