Man convicted under state’s debated cockfighting laws

Published 3:36 pm Thursday, July 14, 2011

On April 23, officers with the Chilton County Sheriff’s Department teamed with the state Fire Marshall’s Office to stake out and raid an illegal cockfighting operation.

Ninety-six people were on the premises, and though no fights were in process, officers confiscated spurs that are attached to roosters’ legs during fights and other telltale evidence.

The property owner, Rueben Ray Smitherman, was convicted of cockfighting recently and received the maximum penalty: a $50 fine and a 30-day suspended sentence.

Some say the punishment doesn’t fit the crime.

The Humane Society of the United States ranks Alabama’s cockfighting laws as the weakest in the nation and has pushed for them to be more stringent.

“A $50 fine isn’t much of a fine or a deterrent,” said Joe Murphy, director of the Chilton County Humane Society. “I think the state has a huge problem. It’s barbaric, a blood sport.”

Sheriff Kevin Davis estimated that 90 percent of those on the scene of the raid, off County Road 55, were from outside Chilton County, and many were from outside the state.

It’s little wonder. Possession of birds for fighting, possession of implements for fighting, and being a spectator at a cockfight are all legal in Alabama, according to a chart produced by the Humane Society.

By comparison, those three activities are all considered felonies in Colorado, carrying punishments of one to three years in prison and a maximum $1,000 fine.

“There is no question that cockfighting is illegal,” Deputy District Attorney C.J. Robinson said. “Once law enforcement makes an arrest, we will prosecute the offender like we prosecute any other crime.

“Unfortunately, the punishment is not very severe.”

A state bill that would have increased penalties for cockfighting made it out of committee in January 2010 but never came to a vote of the full Senate.

State Sen. Cam Ward, who represents Chilton County, said he would like to see a similar bill passed.

“You have a lot of people from outside the state coming into Alabama because our laws are so lenient,” Ward said. “It’s a black eye for all of us anytime this activity is uncovered.”