Case Snapshot
Case ID: 1384
Classification: Fighting
Animal: chicken
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Thursday, May 22, 2003

County: Alameda

Disposition: Alleged

Abuser names unreleased

Oakland police tore open cages and seized a few dozen roosters from a West Oakland home, then searched the house without a warrant.

Glenn Howell, director of Oakland's Animal Control division and animal shelter, said he will ask the district attorney to file charges of cockfighting once police identify the birds' owner.

"At this point, there is probable cause to say cockfighting was going on, but we need a little more time to determine who was at fault and who owns the birds," Howell said.

The whole thing started when police responded to a burglar alarm in the neighbor- hood, noticed the chicken pens and called Oakland Animal Control.

Animal-control officers went to the house Saturday and found more than 50 roosters, hens and adolescent chickens in the back yard, guarded by a fat, friendly dog. They called in patrol officers to help.

"Some (of the roosters) were tied up, and that screamed of cockfighting," Howell said.

Inside the ground-floor/basement level of the house, police said they found a large cockfighting ring, leashes for the roosters, transporter boxes, and drugs believed to be steroids. The interior of the home, which looks pleasant enough from the street, was gutted and uninhabitable, said Sgt. Rodney Grimes.

The officers confiscated about 35 roosters and left the hens and young chickens in the care of a man who arrived at the house and said he was related to the property owner. The roosters were killed because there was no room for them at the shelter and nobody stepped forward to claim ownership, Howell said, adding that live evidence isn't necessary to file charges.

The property owner was cited Saturday for having bird enclosures within 20 feet of a dwelling, a violation of Oakland's municipal code. Police ordered the pens destroyed and the chickens relocated.

Roberts called the charges silly and said the chicken coops were more than 20 feet from the house. He also accused the police officers of causing thousands of dollars' worth of damage to the pens.

Most importantly, he said, the animal-control officers violated his client's constitutional rights by entering the house without a warrant.

"They didn't have a search warrant, and it's not like they heard a crime going on inside," Roberts said.

Howell said he wasn't there, so he doesn't know why police entered the house or whether the man who showed up gave permission. But he said officers saw evidence of illegal activities, namely the fighting roosters and paraphernalia in plain view, which may have led them to suspect there were illegal activities going on inside the house.

Grimes said Monday that he believes the back door to the house was missing.

Cockfighting is fairly common all over the Bay Area, but it's not often that animal-control officers are able to confiscate so many birds, along with evidence of illegal activities, Howell said.

"We get something (of this magnitude) once every other year or so," Howell said. "A lot of the time, we'll see roosters but we won't have enough to prove there is cockfighting. Knowing it and proving it is something else."

Roberts said police have nothing to prove his client was involved with fighting birds -- no razor blades, no poison, no other materials common in the underground world of cockfights. The steroids police found are common ingredients in chicken, especially the kind bought in stores, Roberts said.

"There are no cockfights, they are family pets," Roberts said. "There is absolutely no proof that's what those birds are for ... and second, it's a cultural thing. If they caught them cockfighting, they can prosecute them. But just having cocks doesn't mean they are cockfighting."

Roberts said his client rents the house for the birds and doesn't live there. He said he doesn't know whether the cockfighting ring exists, or if it does, why it is there.

"My clients tell me they are doing no such thing, but that residence has always been traded back and forth by people who are into birds," Roberts said. "If there is a ring, who used it? There is no proof it has been used in the last 27 years. My client doesn't live there, it was rented to raise birdies.

"The whole act sucks; it's really disgusting," Roberts said. "Animal-control people are bound by the same constitution the rest of us are, and that means they need a warrant to come onto the property."

Oakland attorney Dennis Roberts has demanded the valuable roosters' return, referring to them as "family pets." But the birds, which Oakland police believe were bred for fighting, were killed by lethal injection Monday. Roberts is representing the owner, who has not been arrested, of the searched Center Street house.


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