By LeAnn R. Ralph
POLK COUNTY — Three men who were arrested at an alleged cockfight at a Town of Glenwood farm in January were arrested again during a raid June 2 in Polk County.
Ernesto B. Benitez, 48, Amery, Idelio J. Benitez, 57, Amery, and Agustin A. Benitez, 56, Turtle Lake were charged in Polk County Circuit Court June 3 with ten felony counts each of instigating fights between animals and ten misdemeanor counts of violating conditions of bond.
Bail was set for all three men with a $10,000 signature bond that carries a $1,000 cash component. All three men were ordered not to possess roosters, hens or chicks, not to have contact with the other defendants and not to apply for a passport.
A number of people were detained and were expected to be arrested and charged as a result of the June 2 raid, according to a news release from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
All together, 19 people were charged following the alleged cockfight discovered by St. Croix County deputies at the dairy farm in the Town of Glenwood in January when Ernesto, Idelio and Agustin Benitez were arrested the first time.
According to a news release, the ASPCA is assisting with the seizure of nearly 1,200 birds from four properties associated with cockfighting in Polk and St. Croix counties in Wisconsin.
According to a story published in the June 3 edition of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, St. Croix County Sheriff John Shilts said the June 2 investigation was initiated as the result of the alleged cockfighting operation discovered in January at a dairy farm on 315th Street in the Town of Glenwood.
During the June 2 raid, cockfighting paraphernalia was discovered at the properties, including a fighting pit and gaffs used to maximize injury during fights, according to the ASPCA news release.
Roosters, hens and chicks were discovered at the sites living in cages and makeshift shelters. Some of the poultry did not have access to food or water, and some of the birds appeared to be suffering from recent injuries that would be consistent with fighting. During fights, roosters commonly suffer punctured lungs, broken bones and pierced eyes. The gaffs, which are long, dagger-like devices attached to the roosters, are used to maximize injury during the fights. The birds are often given steroids and other drugs to make them more aggressive, the news release said.
Some of the roosters also appeared to have had their combs and wattles removed surgically, which is a common practice used with fighting birds, according to the news release.
“Cockfighters profit from and enjoy watching birds fight for their lives,” said Tim Rickey, vice president of ASPCA Field Investigations and Response. “Not only is cockfighting cruel, but it often brings other crimes to communities, such as illegal gambling and drug possession. We’re pleased to be in a position where we could step in and provide resources and expertise to assist local authorities in ending this violent criminal enterprise and holding the abusers accountable.”
According to the Pioneer Press article, Sheriff Shilts said the raids June 2 indicate that cockfighting in this area is not a small group of people getting together but that it is “more widespread.”
The Pioneer Press article also noted that three of the sites are in or near Amery, and the fourth site is in the Town of Forest in St. Croix County, although the Town of Forest site was not specifically identified by an address.
According to an article in the June 4 edition of the Pioneer Press, during the investigation of the alleged cockfighting in the Town of Glenwood in January, investigators learned that the sites near Amery were believed to have been used for breeding chickens for the purpose of cockfighting.
The Pioneer Press article noted that the information about the breeding sites came from a criminal complaint that had been filed in Polk County.
Investigators surveyed the properties from the air, and chickens could be seen at all three sites. A member of the ASPCA went along on one of the flights and noted that he had observed poultry housing that was consistent with cockfighting operations at two properties although trees hid most of the third property from aerial view, according to the June 4 Pioneer Press article.
In St. Croix County following the discovery of the alleged cockfighting in the Town of Glenwood, Ernesto Benitez was charged with one misdemeanor count of instigating animal fights as a spectator. He was released on a $250 cash bond January 26. Another court hearing is set for Ernesto Benitez in St. Croix County July 21.
Idelio Benitez was charged in the earlier incident in St. Croix County with instigating animal fights as a spectator and obstructing an officer. He was released on a $500 cash bond January 26, and another court hearing for Idelio Benitez is scheduled in St. Croix County July 22.
Agustin Benitez also was charged in the earlier incident in St. Croix County with instigating animal fights as a spectator and obstructing an officer. A $500 cash bond was posted January 26, and Agustin Benitez is scheduled for another court hearing in St. Croix County on July 22 as well.
All three men pleaded not guilty in St. Croix County Circuit Court April 9.
According to an article published by the Tribune Press Reporter in January, the St. Croix County Sheriff’s Office received information of a possible cockfighting event being held at a farm located at 1721 315th Street in the Town of Glenwood around 1:13 pm on Saturday, January 24.
When Sheriff’s deputies arrived at the location, they found several people on the site of a working dairy farm but could hear sounds of what they described as “loud chicken noises” in an area away from the main dairy barn. As they approached that area, deputies observed several individuals gathered around a makeshift shelter. A large number of these individuals ran from the area of the shelter and into a wooded area when they observed deputies approaching. Upon closer inspection, deputies noted a “cockfighting ring” as well as other items that indicated that a cockfight had taken place or was taking place.
Dr. Marvin Johnson, a veterinarian from Roberts, is the owner of the farm which is located about six miles north of Glenwood City.
Sheriff Shilts said investigators concluded that Dr. Johnson had no knowledge of the alleged cockfighting taking place on his dairy farm, and that while he was aware there were chickens on the farm, believed they were being used for acceptable farming practices, according to the Tribune article.
According to the ASPCA news release about the June 2 raid, conducting a cockfight, as well as the possession of birds for fighting, are Class I felonies in Wisconsin, each punishable by up to three years, six months in a state prison and a maximum fine of $10,000. Being a spectator at a cockfight is a misdemeanor.