A Marion County man who regularly allowed cockfighting at his barn was given probation on Monday, but he was ordered to pay a $3,000 fine.
Steven Allen, 52, appeared before Federal Judge Sandy Mattice. The sentencing range was 10-16 months.
His attorney, Anthony Martinez, said cockfighting is legal in his native Puerto Rico and some of his cousins are still involved. He said George Washington and Abraham Lincoln are among prominent Americans who have been involved in chicken fighting.
He noted that cockfighting is illegal in all 50 states, but is a misdemeanor in Tennessee.
Prosecutor Perry Piper, in a legal response, said, "The defendant, in his very well written memorandum, makes much of the history of cockfighting and the cultural acceptance of it. Of course, the defendant’s argument is undercut somewhat by his recognition that cockfighting is now illegal in all fifty states. As a society, we have changing or evolving norms as to acceptable behavior.
"The Cambridge Dictionary Online defines 'blood sport' as 'any sport that involves animals being killed or hurt to make the people watching or taking part feel excitement.' In addition to cockfighting, other well-known types of blood sport are bear baiting, dog fighting and fox penning (wherein foxes are penned inside an enclosure and are set upon by dogs). Most of these activities are now outlawed.
"As the defendant has noted, the Tennessee legislature has classified cockfighting as a misdemeanor while all other forms of blood sport are considered felonies. Counsel for the government has no desire to seem hypocritical—counsel enjoys eating chicken and understands that a chicken is giving up its life for counsel’s nourishment and dining pleasure. Some may see a difference between killing a chicken for sport as opposed to sustenance; others may not. In any event, the activities that defendant fostered are clearly illegal under the law, regardless of one’s moral position concerning blood sport and the defendant’s involvement in it."
Prosecutor Piper said it appeared that Allen was making about $18,000 per "fighting season" by charging a $20 admission and with about 75 people attending each time.
Judge Mattice questioned "whether what is going on over here at Pilgrim's Pride is more cruel. At least the fighting cocks have a fighting chance."
Prosecutor James Brooks, who was sitting in for prosecutor Piper, said, "Both are suffering unnecessarily. There are some moral implications."
He recommended enough punishment for the defendant to send a statement to the community.
Judge Mattice said while he was U.S. attorney there was only one cockfighting case brought "and I was sort of embarrassed about it." But he said it was brought as a public corruption case because officials in Cocke County were sanctioning the fights.
On the fact that dog fighting is a felony but chicken fighting is a misdemeanor, the judge said, "It appears that the people of Tennessee love their dogs a lot more than they love their chickens."
Attorney Martinez said, "The cockfighting on Mr. Allen’s property started elsewhere. Neighborhood kids started fighting chickens at the property across the road from Mr. Allen’s. Eventually, fathers of the kids became involved as their fathers and grandfathers before them. More and more people began to show up. When it rained, participants asked Mr. Allen if they could use his barn to get out of the rain. The cockfights occurred more and more often on Mr. Allen’s property. As the number of people grew, Mr. Allen began charging admission at the gate into the area.
"A central group of 'cockers' began to attend, those with birds, those who were 'matchers', referees, equipment sellers, concession sellers. Word of mouth passed it around that there were rounds of cockfights, or 'derbies', being held on Mr. Allen’s property every other Saturday night.
"To enter into the fights, an individual, a 'cocker', would bring his bird(s) and put money into a 'pot' for each bird he wanted to enter. Ten percent of that pot went to the 'matcher' and the referees. As the name infers, the referees watched over the fights. A 'matcher' would put information on each bird into a computer program and a band was given to place on the bird. The computer program then matched up which birds were to fight each other and the order of the fights.
"Computer programs such as these can be purchased through cockfighting websites like
gamerooster.com and magazines like Gamecock Magazine. At the end of the fights, whichever
cocker had the most wins would win the remaining 90% of the pot. Mr. Allen received no money
from these pots, nor did he have any computer matching programs.
"There also existed individual betting between spectators. These bets were handled by those
spectators, between themselves. Other than knowing the wagering took place, Mr. Allen did not participate in this wagering in any way; he did not hold the wagers, record the wagers, pay out the winners or receive any money from these bets.
"Based upon this information, Mr. Allen did not have a gambling business or operation. He provided a location for cockfighting and received money by requiring each person coming onto his property to pay an admission fee. Nothing from the admission fee went to the cockers or spectators; nothing from the pot or spectator wagering came to Mr. Allen."
Allen, 52, has no prior criminal record, the attorney.
Allen said he is now out of favor with the cockfighters so they will no longer be bringing their chickens to his property.