AIKEN - An Aiken County magistrate refused Monday to release the names of 120 people ticketed on misdemeanor cockfighting in a weekend raid while an animal rights activist called the state's laws against the bloodsport "too weak."
Magistrate Judge Thomas Fallaw said he would not release the names of those ticketed at the Carolina Club cockpit, located on an isolated woodland tract near Interstate 20 north of Wagener, until their cases are adjudicated because he said the names private information and not a matter of public record.
Aiken County Sheriff's Office spokesman Lt. Michael Frank said his department couldn't release the names because the tickets already had been forwarded to Judge Fallaw's office.
So far, authorities have named only two people in connection with the bust: Michael Grooms, a forester from Gilbert, S.C., and Jimmy Collins, of the upstate area. Reached Monday, Mr. Grooms declined comment. Mr. Collins, whose address had not been provided by authorities, was not reachable.
Tax records show the five-acre tract of property where the cockfighting arena was erected to be owned by a corporation known as The Testing Facility Inc. of Duncan, S.C.
News of the weekend raid by Aiken County deputies and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division spread quickly on Internet Web sites in the gamefowl community.
Several Web sites that cater to cockfighting enthusiasts already had messages posted mentioning the weekend raid.
One such posting, on gamerooster.com, said: "The best pit in S.C. got busted Saturday."
The person went on to claim that the pit owners had "decided to lay low and not have any more shows until this year. Well, what do you know, the pit got busted on opening day, 120 people ticketed and 50,000 in cash confiscated."
Wayne Pacelle, a senior vice president for the Humane Society of the United States, said gamecock enthusiasts operate "blatantly," and have at least three magazines - Feathered Warrior, Gamecock and the Gaffney, S.C.-based Grit and Steel, devoted to the sport of cockfighting.
Mr. Pacelle said the penalties for cockfighting in South Carolina - a misdemeanor ticket resulting in a fine - are inadequate.
"First, we applaud the Aiken County sheriff's office for taking action, and recognizing that it is the law of the state that people should not be instigating deadly fights between animals for amusement and illegal gambling purposes," Mr. Pacelle said. "But it's also painfully evident that the penalties are too weak."
Currently, cockfighting is a felony in 31 states, as opposed to 47 states that consider fighting dogs a felony.
"A slap on the wrist is not going to deter these people," Mr. Pacelle said. "they'll just keep doing it and consider these minor crimes to be the cost of doing business."
Reach Stephen Gurr at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110.
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