Body cameras contradict WA deputies' timeline in mass rooster shooting

Editor's note: The following article delves into the sensitive and distressing topic of cockfighting and animal cruelty. 

A plan to send dozens of former cockfighting roosters to animal sanctuaries was blocked when Yakima County deputies made the decision to shoot and kill them over fears that the birds would be moved in the dead of night if they left them on the property.

Following a FOX 13 Investigative team report, the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office sounded off online calling it a "challenging decision, but one that was necessary given the circumstances."

Body camera footage from the deputies on the scene paint a different picture, with the animal control officer stating: "I just hate the whole trying to save everything."

While the Yakima Sheriff’s Office spokesperson initially told FOX 13 that they made a call to A.T.F. to get ahold of the animal sanctuary from Western Washington that was planning to re-home the birds, the body camera footage played out with that call being discussed. However, the next call made is to the armory for ammunition, with one deputy muting his microphone as he begins to explain the situation.

In the end, 64 roosters were shot and killed – a highly unusual form of euthanasia in animal cruelty cases.

"They could have tried something," said Kate Tsyrklevich, the co-founder of Heartwood Haven, the animal sanctuary that had been working with A.T.F. to re-home the roosters before their execution.

"It doesn’t seem like they tried anything, it was more convenient for them to just shoot the roosters."

A cockfighting ring bust, and a rescue gone wrong

In April, the U.S. Attorney's Office announced 34 indictments on charges stemming from a large cockfighting ring located in eastern Washington.

Charges ranged from money laundering, to cockfighting and even attempts to kill witnesses.

The bust included dozens of roosters on two separate properties. It was determined that half of the roosters would be moved to Heartwood Haven, an animal sanctuary in Pierce County – the other half would be moved once they’d cleared the roosters out to various adoptive families, sanctuaries and other facilities.

Kate Tsyrklevich and her team worked around the clock – finding a home for more than 50 roosters, and clearing the property for the next round of birds. 

As she told FOX 13, she was awaiting a call from the A.T.F. so she could spring into action once given the green light. Instead, a call came notifying her that the roosters had already been shot and killed.

While the roosters sat at a property in Zillah, Washington, a neighbor called with concerns about a couple of horses that were on the property. When Yakima County deputies, along with an animal control officer, arrived, it was determined that they would take care of the roosters.

"Essentially clean up their mess is the nice way to put it," said a Yakima County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson.

According to that spokesperson, there was a concern that someone would steal or move the birds now that they had arrived at the property. Despite the birds remaining on the property following a raid by A.T.F., the argument was: the birds are worth a lot of money, and there was a risk they’d be moved and subjected to more fighting.

In body-worn camera footage, the woman who was taking care of the roosters asked whether the birds could be taken to an animal sanctuary.

Animal Control Officer Cindy Kanzler tells the woman: "I don’t think so."

What is clear from the footage obtained by FOX 13 through a public records request, is that Kanzler had knowledge of the plan for the roosters.

Though, it becomes clear she had opinions on those plans, at one point telling one of the responding deputies: "I don’t give a (inaudible) how you dispose of them, honestly – I think rescuing birds is (inaudible) … but however you want to deal with it."

'Your wife's got a set of testicles on her'

In order to kill the roosters, the officers would need to have the owner of the property sign the roosters over.

Over the course of the body-camera footage, a man is on the phone with Kanzler, stating that he doesn’t own the birds – she continues to insist he does, since they’re on a property he resides on. She also continues to remind him that it’s illegal to own a bird that’s been altered for fighting purposes.

In cockfighting, birds are often "dubbed," meaning their waddles and ears are trimmed off early-on in life to avoid additional locations that opposing birds can tear and cause them to bleed out. 

A total of 64 birds were "dubbed" on the Zillah property, and Kanzler told the man on the phone that lives on the property that his best course of action was to sign a declaration surrendering the roosters to the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office. 

Eventually, he relents – meaning they could send the roosters to a shelter or euthanize them.

Kanzler then explains they plan to shoot and kill the roosters. When the man seems apprehensive of coming home to bury 64 roosters, Kanzler pressures him again – telling him: "Your wife is being — she’s got a set of testicles on her – she’s willing to do this."

FOX 13 reached out to Casey Schilperoort, the public information officer for Yakima County Sherrif’s Office to ask whether the department was aware of the statements, and comments made by Kanzler and whether they’re appropriate for a person dealing with the public.

Those questions were asked on June 27. The only response back was an out-of-office email stating that he was out of office, adding: "I expect to return sometime in July." 

Saving roosters, the ones that lived

While dozens of roosters were shot and killed by Yakima County deputies, more than 40 were saved thanks to Heartwood Haven’s team.

Tsyrklevich told FOX 13 that they had spent countless hours to ensure they were cleared out and in safe homes in a timely manner, to ensure they had space for the next round of roosters – an effort that proved futile.

If there is a silver lining, it’s that the deputies' decision to kill the roosters made the efforts to change these outcomes more visible.

When the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office posted online about how dangerous the roosters were, a number of people began posting photos of their roosters – former cockfighting roosters – that had been taken into their homes as family pets.

It was a reminder that the roosters are genuinely friendly to humans, and that it requires little to no effort to change behaviors. Despite being trained to fight other roosters, countless families began posting pictures of children holding roosters – with no harm coming to them.

However, Tsyrklevich is still shocked that law enforcement would kill the roosters – ultimately stating that it was a resource issue. 

In a previous interview with FOX 13, the Yakima County Sheriff spokesperson stated a veterinarian to euthanize the birds would have cost too much money, and waiting for a rescue team to travel to them would have taken too much time.

"Seeing it is just sad because you would hope for something better," Tsyrklevich said.

Cockfighting: Illegal in all 50 states

Despite being outlawed in all 50 states, underground cockfighting has continued throughout the U.S. for years. Tips are regularly filtering into agencies from small towns and major cities alike to state and federal agencies.


The shocking underbelly of cockfighting in Washington state

Despite being outlawed in all 50 states, underground cockfighting has continued throughout the U.S. and in WA for years.

The Washington State Gambling Commission told FOX 13, animal fighting investigations are open at all times in our state, and it’s likely that several hundred fighting birds are actively being trained in our fight at any given time.

In an editorial titled, "Unfortunately, it is animal fighting season in our state," the deputy commissioner said there are an influx of cockfighting. 

"Cockfighting involves money, drugs and gangs," wrote Deputy Director Gary Drumheller. "Cockfighting derbies equal thousands of dollars exchanged during fighting events."

While the events are advertised, investigators note that they’re easy to get an invitation to once you’re inside the world of cockfighting. It’s why the state recently made it a crime to alter a rooster for cockfighting – in other words "dubbed" birds like those found at the property in Zillah can lead to felony charges for owners of these birds.

The most common sign of cockfighting, or breeding birds for cockfighting, is the sheer number of roosters in a given place.

It’s common for birds to be tethered to an A-frame shelter, or plastic bin that keeps roosters within visible sight of one-another, but just out of reach to keep them frustrated.

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