Alabama Family That Built Cockfighting ‘Stadium’ Imprisoned

Seven members of an Alabama family have been handed federal prison sentences for operating one of the “largest cockfighting enterprises” in the US, according to the Department of Justice.

Cockfighting
An image of a cockfight in Assam, India. The Easterling’s arena in Verbena, Al. included “stadium seating” and a merchandise stall selling gaffs and slashers. (Image: EPA)

Three generations of the Easterling family of Verbena, Al., aged between 25 and 77, helped run a cockfighting arena that included “stadium seating” for 150 people and even had a merchandise stand, prosecutors said.

The family also managed two breeding farms that produced thousands of fighting birds for use in the illegal blood sport.

The final member to be sentenced was George “Billy” Easterling, 56, who received 22 months in prison followed by one year of supervised release Tuesday for violating the Animal Welfare Act’s (AWA) prohibition against animal fighting.

George’s brother, Brent Easterling, 38, was described by prosecutors as “one of the most widely-known fighting-bird breeders in the country.” He could charge up to $1,500 for his roosters because of their “select fighting pedigrees,” per court documents. He was handed a 24-month sentence on November 30.

Gaffs and Slashers

Family patriarch William “Jim” Easterling, 77, was the owner of the cockfighting arena. He was sentenced to two years of home detention and a fine of $8,000 for violating the Animal Welfare Act and operating an illegal gambling business. The court determined that a prison sentence would be detrimental to his declining health.

Cockfighting bouts typically involve spectators placing bets on birds that then fight to the death, usually with hooked razors known as “gaffs” or “slashers” attached to their talons. These avian assault weapons were among the items on sale at the arena’s merchandise stand.

Prosecutors concluded that the fights were conducted purely for the purposes of “sport, wagering, and entertainment.” And for the Easterlings, profit. Jim Easterling charged participants from across the US expensive entry fees, such as $1,500 to fight seven birds at his cock pit.

The patriarch has since dismantled the arena, which was one of the conditions of his plea deal.

Illegal Since 2002

Cockfighting has been illegal in 50 states since a 2002 amendment to AWA made it a misdemeanor to ship, exhibit, or sponsor birds for fighting.

Five years later, President George W. Bush signed into law the Animal Fighting Prohibition Reinforcement Act (AFPRA), which made the crime a felony.

AFPRA also made it an offense to “knowingly sell, buy, transport, or deliver in interstate or foreign commerce a knife, a gaff, or any other sharp instrument attached, or designed or intended to be attached, to the leg of a bird for use in an animal fighting venture.”

It is also illegal in most states to be a spectator at a cockfight.