Animal rights group Animal Wellness Action released a statement concerning the allegations from the animal welfare group SHARK that the Atoka County Sheriff Tony Head has been delinquent in not enforcing the state’s anti-cockfighting law. Recently, an anonymous tipster alerted SHARK about an alleged underground cockfighting ring in Atoka County, Oklahoma. This prompted SHARK president Steve Hindi to fly from Illinois to Oklahoma to investigate the matter.
Deputy Kevin Anderson went to the location of the alleged cockfighting ring after Hindi alerted the authorities. Deputy Anderson said that during his observation, he saw no loose feathers or deceased chickens on the property. Hindi uploaded a YouTube video stating that the Atoka County Sheriff Head and the deputies tipped off the cockfighting ring and are friends with the alleged cockfighters.
Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action, released the following statement:
“Animal Wellness Action has acted on multiple tips on illegal cockfighting activities in Stringtown in Atoka County for two years. After conducting investigations to confirm the intelligence provided to us, we notified Sheriff Head and his deputies of upcoming cockfights, providing the location, time, and even the entrance fees for the cockfights. Not a single time did his office take any action to interdict the fight even though he is sworn to uphold the laws of Oklahoma. Our intelligence reports that he and his team were well aware of the fights in this small town and have done nothing but protect the people involved in this form of organized crime.”
In 2020, AWA and Animal Wellness Foundation announced the results of a major investigation that showed major cockfighting industries openly operating within Oklahoma. Drew Edmondson, former Oklahoma Attorney General and co-chair of the National Law Enforcement Council of AWA provided three Oklahoma attorneys with evidence of about 21 individuals involved in cockfighting operations.
Included in the evidence are 13 videos made by a Philippines-based broadcaster featuring Oklahoma-based cockfighters who were marketing their birds for sale to other cockfighters around the world. AWA documented that two of the cockfighters — one in LeFlore Country and the other in Haskell Country — have shipped about 5,000 birds to Guam for illegal cockfighting activities in violation of federal law.
Earlier this year, Oklahoma Representative Justin Humphrey, whose district includes Atoka Country, introduced House Bill 3283 which seeks to decriminalize training and possession of fighting birds. The bill did not pass the House. Rep. Humphrey also attempted to introduce a bill called SB 1522 to reduce anti-cockfighting penalties in Oklahoma. The measure was also dismissed.
Oklahoma voters approved the anti-cockfighting law in 2002. The Oklahoma Supreme Court upheld the law as constitutional in a unanimous decision after cockfighters challenged it.
The Atoka Country Sheriff has yet to respond to AWA’s comment.