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Authorities: Cockfighting operation tied to drug investigation

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Updated: 8/06/2013 3:15 am
UNION COUNTY, Miss. (WTVA) -- Catching chickens requires more patience than anything else, and it's not what Union County Sheriff Jimmy Edwards expected to be doing with his time Monday.

"We had begun an investigation on Mario Gonzales and maybe some drug trafficking, but we didn't know about the rooster-fighting pen in the woods there," Edwards said.

Deputies arrived at Gonzales' residence on County Road 67 Friday night, responding to a disturbance call.

"They were instructed that there was probably a weapon and some drugs out by the chicken house," Edwards added.

That's where the trail led deputies to 26-year-old Oscar Rodriguez, hiding in a chicken coop when authorities descended onto the property.

Edwards said Rodriguez assaulted one of the deputies before leaving the scene.

The deputies found cocaine, marijuana and crystal meth on the property. Gonzales was also arrested and charged with selling meth.

Sometime later, Edwards said they discovered a cockfighting pen and paraphenalia like scales, muscle enhancers and even weapons designed to be attached to the roosters before they enter the ring to fight.

"It's not illegal to raise them or have them, but to fight them is certainly against the law, and I believe that's what was going on here," Edwards said.

"For years and years, it's been a way for people to make side money on betting and everything," Tupelo-Lee Humane Society Executive Director Debbie Hood said.

The animal cruelty charges that will be tacked onto the drug charges Mario Gonzales already faces are misdemeanors in Mississippi, though.

"It's unbelievable the laws were written so long ago. I think they need to be looked at again, and maybe some stiffer penalties put on it," Edwards said.

Hood said around 20 roosters and 15 hens were seized by authorities in what she called deplorable conditions.

"The filth in the cages and the filthy water--there's no food in there. And they were tied to barrels," Hood said. "Anytime, you know, blood is wrought, it's cruelty. Anytime animals are kept in this condition, it's cruelty."

As for the animals, their future remains bleak.

Animal control experts say roosters that have been trained to fight cannot be integrated into an agricultural setting.

In the vast majority of cases, they're put down.

In addition, authorities continue to search for Rodriguez, who is believed to be armed and tied to the narcotics investigation because of the two items he dropped Friday night after evading authorities: a 9mm handgun and more than a pound of marijuana.

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