Seven Alabama residents were arrested for running a large-scale cockfighting enterprise with illegal gambling and breeding, authorities said.
The defendants operated a cockfighting arena with seating for 150 spectators around several different fighting pits beginning in 2018, according to a federal indictment.
Those arrested, all residents of Verbena, include: William Colon “Big Jim” Easterling, 75; Brent Colon Easterling, 37; Kassi Brook Easterling, 38; William Tyler Easterling, 29; George William “Billy” Easterling, 55; and Thomas Glyn “Junior” Williams, 33, who were all charged with one count of conspiracy to violate the Animal Welfare Act and to operate an illegal gambling business.
They were additionally charged, along with 23-year-old Amber Nicole Easterling with a substantive count of operating an illegal gambling business, the DOJ announced. Tyler Easterling was additionally charged with a single violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act for capturing and killing a Great Horned Owl.
The Easterlings also operated three breeding operations near the fighting pit, where they sold gamecocks and weapons for the birds, with a single rooster being sold for as much as $800, officials said.
The defendants each face up to five years in prison if convicted.
Cockfights are brutal matches in which bird owners strap razor blades to the trained roosters’ legs which are used to slash and stab their opponent until the rooster dies or refuses to continue fighting, while spectators gamble on the outcome.
Often, one or both roosters are killed, the DOJ said. Fatally wounded birds are sometimes moved off to the side while bets are placed on which animal will die first.
The arrests were praised by animal activist organizations such as Animal Wellness Action and the Animal Wellness Foundation.
The organizations had released a report in 2020 identifying Brent Easterling as a major international trafficker of fight-bred roosters.
The organization said that since cockfighting is decriminalized in the state of Alabama, a federal indictment was needed to prosecute the animal traffickers.
“If law enforcement is going to shut down illegal cockfighting in my home state of Alabama, that work can only be by the Dept. of Justice because cockfighting is effectively decriminalized in the Yellowhammer State,” said Marty Irby, executive director of Animal Wellness Action and a native of Mobile.
“While dogfighting is a felony in Alabama, cockfighting warrants less in the way of penalties than a parking ticket, and the law hasn’t been updated since the 1800’s. The action of the United States in saying that it will not tolerate animal fighting operations will reverberate from Mobile to Huntsville and everywhere in between.”