Zillah cockfighting could lead to felony charge

YAKIMA — A 56-year-old Zillah man could face a felony charge for organizing and promoting a cockfighting event Saturday that was broken up by Yakima County sheriff’s deputies.

According to the arrest report, a sheriff’s deputy said he saw about 150 to 200 people in attendance as gamecocks fought in an arena on a ranch at 321 E. Centennial Drive outside Zillah. The attendees scattered when they saw deputies.

An initial sheriff’s office news release on the incident reported that about 1,000 people were in attendance. But Sheriff Ken Irwin said Monday that was the result of a miscommunication between the arresting officer and the author of the release.

Deputies seized eight firearms, cash and “numerous tools used to outfit the chickens for battle,” the original news release said. Several people attending the fight were detained for questioning, and information will be sent to the Yakima County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office for consideration of charges.

The name of the suspect, who resides on and manages the ranch, is being withheld because he has yet to be formally charged. Under state law, it is a Class C felony punishable by a maximum five-year sentence and $10,000 fine to attend, promote, organize or participate in such an event.

Prosecutors had no comment on the case Monday.

Dispatcher’s notes from the sheriff’s office indicate that officers were tipped off by a complaint of suspicious activity. The incident was reported just before midnight, according to the report.

The event occurred on a ranch belonging to Congdon Orchard. Company CEO Dick Woodin said in a telephone interview that the suspect has worked for the company for more than 25 years.

“I was extremely surprised because he has been a very dependable employee throughout the years,” Woodin said. “The whole thing shocked all of us.”

Woodin said it was the first time to his knowledge that animal fighting had taken place on any of the company’s properties and that the company will be taking steps to prevent such incidents in the future. He did not explicitly state the future of the suspect’s employment with the company.

“He’s in jail right now; we’ll be dealing with him,” Woodin said.

According to the arrest report, officers also saw “a large amount of bloody dead roosters piled up near the arena” where gamecocks were fighting.

Cockfighting is illegal in all 50 states and a felony in 40 states as well as the District of Columbia, according to the Humane Society of the United States. The last state to outlaw cockfighting was Louisiana, where its law went into effect in August 2008, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune.