Update: Deputies arrest 31 at cockfight | News | The Press and Standard
by The Press and Standard | May 18, 2017 5:00 am
Last Updated: May 17, 2017 at 11:56 am
By GEORGE SALSBERRY
There’s over 65 years of law enforcement experience in this room, Colleton County Sheriff Andy Strickland said as he discussed the May 13 raid of a Cottageville cockfight. In the room were Strickland, Chief Deputy Buddy Hill and Lt. Tyger Benton, who recently took over as the office’s public information officer after spending over two decades with the Dorchester County Sheriff’s Office.
None of them, Strickland pointed out, had been involved in investigating and shutting down a cockfight.
But they have been learning on the fly.
“This is a very, very rare case,” Strickland said. “It is a strange case, bigger than anyone could have imagined.”
The sheriff said information concerning a possible cockfight occurring at a residential property on Sullivan’s Ferry Road had come into the office.
Deputies immediately began investigating the tip. “The more we looked into it, the more we found out,” Strickland said.
The collection of information got to the point where investigators decided to seek a search warrant for the location.
While the warrant was being obtained, the raiding party was being put together. Eventually, 17 members of the sheriff’s office, including the members of the SWAT team and the sheriff’s office command staff, were part of the raid team.
The uncertainty of what the officers might face, Strickland said, led the command staff to add the SWAT team.
The tip had suggested that anywhere between 35 and 200 people could be at the cockfight.
The target was an eight-acre tract of land on Sullivans Ferry Road, a sparsely traveled, thinly populated dirt road outside Cottageville.
The land housed a doublewide trailer with an extension off the back, the place where the chickens fought to the death. Another small building, what appeared to be a welding shop, was also on the property.
At about 4 p.m., the raiding party was ready. The law enforcement personnel approached the property from every angle.
“You didn’t know what to expect until you got there,” the sheriff said.
The raiders came through the door and quickly found themselves outnumbered.
In a shed Strickland estimated at 800-square-feet, between 175 and 200 people were engrossed in a fight to the death in a plywood ring that measured 16×16 feet.
The humans were watching the cockfight, standing three, four or five deep. “I’ve never seen that many people in that small a space,” the sheriff said.
When the audience realized the law had arrived, “everyone started running in every direction,” Strickland said.
The 17 officers scrambled to make 31 arrests as the majority of the participants ran for the woods.
The scene, Strickland said, “was very graphic. I had never seen anything like this — it is hard to describe.”
With the arrestees in custody, the search began.
They found the remains of 25 gamecocks, losers in the fights that had went on before law enforcement arrived.
They found 65 live gamecocks, bred to fight. They found cockfighting paraphernalia including the razor-sharp gaffs tied to the legs of the chickens just prior to the fight. The gaffs go on just after the two chickens are bound together so they can’t fly away from the confrontation.
Deputies found chemicals and the syringes used to inject the gamecocks with the chemicals that “make them meaner, make them want to fight,” Strickland said.
They found $36,623 in cash. Strickland said the on-going investigation taught them that the owners of the gamecocks had to pay an entry fee of $1,000 per bird. Much of the money seized, he said, was entry fees.
Some of it, however, could be proceeds from the round of gambling that precedes each match.
After the area was secure, Strickland said, members of the Colleton County Animal and Environmental Control were called to the scene to take possession of the gamecocks and four dogs found on the property. The dogs weren’t bred for fighting — they were docile, he said.
They found the property owner, Jorge Luis Fuetre of North Charleston. He and each of the 30 other arrestees were taken into custody on the state statute that outlaws fighting and baiting animals, which includes cockfighting among its violations. A conviction on the misdemeanor carries a maximum fine of $500.
Strickland said Fuetre could face additional charges as the investigation continues.
Both the sheriff’s office prisoner vans were brought to Sullivans Ferry Road to transport the suspects to the Detention Center, and additional Detention Center were called in to help with processing the prisoners.
Strickland said that none of those arrested was from Colleton County — all appeared to be Hispanic. Many of those taken into custody were from North Charleston. One was from California, another from Georgia.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents from the Charleston office came to the Colleton County Detention Center to interview those arrested. Seventeen of those arrested remain in custody at the request of ICE as they continue to investigate their immigration status.
“This is a very organized crime,” Strickland said. The cockfights are always on the move, held in different South Carolina counties and in neighboring states. The Sullivans Ferry Road property, he added, has apparently hosted other cockfights in the past.
The location of the next cockfight is kept secret until 24 hours before it is to take place, Strickland has learned.
Chief Deputy Buddy Hill said what the searchers didn’t find was also telling.
“There was a little bit of beer, a little bit of drugs and no weapons,” Hill said. “Apparently, they don’t allow activity that would draw attention to them. They stay incognito because they don’t let them get out of line.”
“They are not used to getting caught. They have been getting away with it for a while by going underground,” Strickland said. “We brought it to light.”
Arrested were: Algeria Suarez, Luis, 18; Almaraz, Jose Herman, 19; Cabrera, Ernesto Paz, 25; Castaneda, Jose Miguel, 35; Elder, Santana Banos, 23; Esparza Reyes, Jorge L., 54; Esparza, Rosendo Baez, 62; Fuente, Jorge Lius, 49 (owner of the Cottageville property); Gallegos-Mendez, Jaime, 30; Gomez, Ismael, 33; Heranadez, Ramirez Oscar, 18; Hernandez, Jose, 23; Hernandez, Miguel, 43; Luna, Hilario, 36; Mederos-Trujillo, Rigobe, 38; Molina, Manuel, 17; Muroz Ramos, Eprain, 26; Ortiz Santos, Javier, 48; Ortiz, Pedro Gonzalez, 42; Padilla-Guzman, Victor M., 37; Ramirez Tovar, Leonel A., 24; Ramirez-Tovan, Amado, 42; Ramirez, Jose, 71; Rubio, Gloria Garcia, 51; Salas, David, 19; Sanchez, Antonio, 50; Sanchez, Francisco Javie, 22; Sanchez, Jose Jesus, 20; Stuckey, Andrea E., 49; Vazquez-Castro, Noe, 27; Villegos-Akarcon, Moises, 28.