Wrapping up his comments before a newly formed game fowl group in Kentucky, Anthony DeVore buoyed their spirits by touting the political clout his similar chicken-breeding organization has back in Oklahoma.
DeVore is president of the Oklahoma Gamefowl Commission, a nonprofit advocacy group pushing to lessen the state’s criminal penalties for cockfighting. On Dec. 9, he told members of the Kentucky Game Fowl Commission at their first meeting in Langley, Kentucky, that his group in Oklahoma has the political support of U.S. Rep. Josh Brecheen (R-OK2). DeVore said he met two days earlier with Brecheen in Washington, and a picture of the two of men dated Dec. 7 appears on the Oklahoma group’s Facebook page.
“Josh is a good guy, a real staunch constitutionalist,” DeVore said in Kentucky. “We were in a meeting with several people and the people looked at him like, what are you talking about? He said, ‘Dude, we’re talking about chicken fighting.’ He said, ‘Chicken fighting ought to be legal.’ He said, ‘I don’t have an issue with it. Neither should anybody else.’ And this is a U.S. congressman.”
Asked about DeVore’s comments, Ben Decatur, Brecheen’s communications director, released a statement Wednesday attributed to Brecheen.
“I, like many Oklahomans, support the decriminalization of cockfighting,” Brecheen said. “With our border crisis and rise of violent crime, Oklahoma law enforcement should be spared from having to spend their limited time and resources investigating who is chicken fighting and who is not.”
However, according to an April 2023 Sooner Survey, fewer than 10 percent of Oklahomans think cockfighting should be legal, and nearly 90 percent of voters favor the existing statewide ban that makes cockfighting a felony. The poll showed 88 percent of those surveyed in the OKC and Tulsa areas saying cockfighting should be illegal, while 87 percent of those in the 71 rural counties also responded that the blood sport should be outlawed.
In each of the five congressional districts in Oklahoma, at least 83 percent of respondents want cockfighting to be illegal, and in no congressional district did support for legality exceed 12 percent, according to the poll.
In Brecheen’s 2nd Congressional District, which includes all or part of 24 counties in the eastern part of the state, 83 percent polled said cockfighting should be illegal, while 11 percent said it should be legal, according to the poll.
Cockfighting is illegal in all 50 states, with Louisiana becoming the last state to ban it in 2007. In 2002, Oklahoma voters criminalized hosting, attending and raising birds for cockfighting events. Federally, the Animal Fighting Prohibition Reinforcement Act also makes animal fighting a felony charge. Attending a fight or selling, buying, transporting or delivering any sharp instruments intended to be used for fighting birds can also result in criminal charges.
During his Kentucky speech, DeVore also name-dropped Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, although he was less accurate when discussing a video message Stitt sent his group in November “to cheer you on from the sidelines.”
“If you didn’t see that the governor in Oklahoma came out, made a video in support of us, you’re missing out,” DeVore told the crowd, according to a recording provided to NonDoc by an animal rights group opposed to DeVore’s efforts. “We’re real thankful for him, and he faced a lot of heat from animal rights activists and the liberal news stations.”
DeVore then claimed that Stitt contacted him directly about the issue.
“He called me up and said, ‘Them damn slimeballs,'” DeVore told the crowd. “He said, ‘I hate them.’ He said, ‘I hate ’em with a passion.'”
Abegail Cave, the governor’s communications director, said Stitt never talked to DeVore.
“The governor does not know anybody named Anthony DeVore (and has) not called anybody named Anthony DeVore,” Cave said Dec. 22. “To hear somebody say that he would have said ‘them damn slimeballs’ was my first red flag that that was not something that actually happened. But I did call the governor and he said he has never met anybody named Anthony DeVore.”
Later that day, after a meeting of the Oklahoma Board of Equalization, Stitt himself denied knowing DeVore or making a call to the cockfighting advocate.
Cave said she didn’t know why DeVore would attribute comments to the governor that he did not make.
“Probably flexing would be my guess,” she said.
Reached Thursday, DeVore admitted the phone call from Stitt never happened.
“I was paraphrasing that,” DeVore said. “He didn’t call me directly, he called one of our constituents.”
Blake Pearce, secretary and policy chairman of the Oklahoma Game Fowl Commission, added that it’s unknown if that even happened.
“We don’t have any proof or anything that he actually said that, that could be hearsay,” Pearce said. “We did not hear the governor say that himself.”
Despite Stitt’s November video cheering DeVore’s organization, Cave said the governor would not sign a bill decriminalizing cockfighting if the Legislature sent one to him.
Group pushing bill to lower cockfighting penalties
Pearce said the Oklahoma Gamefowl Commission is not trying to legalize cockfighting, which Oklahoma voters outlawed 22 years ago. He said the purpose of the 501(c)(4) group is to promote the interests of an estimated 5,000 game fowl breeders in Oklahoma. Game fowl breeders in the state raise the birds to show them, but many sell them to buyers in other countries, allegedly to breed them or show them. The birds they sell cannot be used for fighting, Pearce claimed, but their offspring can.
Pearce said the Oklahoma Gamefowl Commission is again trying to win legislative approval for a measure lessening cockfighting crimes from felonies to misdemeanors if 5 percent of a county’s voters sign an initiative petition and then a majority of voters approve it on a ballot.
HB 2530, authored by Rep. Justin “J.J.” Humphrey (R-Lane), advanced halfway through the legislative process last year after two attempts on the floor of the House of Representatives. The measure was sent to the State Senate, where it did not receive a hearing. It can be considered by the Senate during this year’s regular session, which begins Feb. 5.
Video of Stitt’s ‘cheer’ for cockfighting organization draws criticism by Michael McNutt
“This bill is not about cockfighting,” DeVore told NonDoc. “These bills are about protecting our FFA children from becoming felons, No. 1. No. 2, it’s about criminal justice reform because the language we’re introducing is not just purely making it a misdemeanor, it’s progressive sanction, which goes along with criminal justice reform for when they do have a misdemeanor on the first two and then a felony on the third. That’s about rehabilitation and people turning their lives around, and if you’re dumb enough, you know, to do it a third time after you’ve been caught twice, you deserve to be a felon.
“So, it’s not about cockfighting, it’s about making our society safer and better. The way the current law is written, our FFA children could be charged as felons when they go and show their game fowl in poultry shows across the state of Oklahoma.”
Wayne Pacelle, the president of Animal Wellness Action who worked last year to try to derail HB 2530, said Monday his group will oppose the measure this year “with vigor” even with DeVore’s proposed amendment. Pacelle emailed NonDoc the video of DeVore’s remarks in Kentucky.
“The best way to avoid going to jail for cockfighting is not to cockfight,” Pacelle said. “It’s clear that the people who created the Oklahoma Gamefowl Commission are cockfighters and they want to continue to engage in this barbaric form of recreation and they don’t want any consequences to befall them.”
DeVore: Couple prosecuted for ‘simply owning chickens’
DeVore pointed to last year’s arrest of an Oklahoma County couple as to why the law needs to be changed. Ellie Pennit Grino and his wife, Jannine Crespo Yee, were arrested in April and charged in May in Oklahoma County District Court with one count of keeping a place, equipment or facility to be used in permitting cockfighting. They are accused of having equipment used in permitting cockfighting in their home about one mile north of Interstate 40 on Harrah Road in Newalla.
Grino is named in 59 cockfighting-related counts filed by Oklahoma County District Attorney Vicki Behenna’s office. He is charged with 50 counts of possessing birds with the intent to engage in a cockfight. He also is charged with eight counts of cruelty to animals for not providing necessary shelter for the roosters, which were kept on the back of his property in Newalla, an unincorporated community in eastern Oklahoma County, just west of State Highway 270.
Grino was arrested by a McLoud police officer on a complaint of driving under the influence. Found in his vehicle were fighting spurs along with wooden transport boxes for roosters. Investigators with the Oklahoma City Animal Welfare Division went to his house and confiscated 93 game-type birds — 50 roosters and 43 hens — along with 158 eggs from the property, along with a large number of vitamins, antibiotics and leg tethers, according to affidavits filed in the case. Yee was inside the house along with her three children when officers arrived at the property.
“He and his family are facing 590 years for simply owning chickens,” DeVere said of Grino. “His children are still in therapy because when the police showed up, the parents weren’t home and they pulled fully automatic weapons, the riot team did, on his children and they handcuffed them and threw them in the back of police cars.
“The charges against Ellie Grino are solely based on an opinion. He got pulled over 10 miles away from home and he had an empty carrying box in the back of his truck. The officer in his opinion said he was intending to fight roosters because he had an empty carrying box. No chickens in it, just an empty wooden box.”
A preliminary hearing for Grino and Yee is set for April 5.
“Here’s the deal, you get our FFA kids that are raising game fowl to show them in shows, the media and animal rights activists will have you believe that you have to give them drugs and make them mean and all this stuff, and it’s really genetic so they have to keep them separated in pens or they will get out and kill each other,” DeVore said. “So, if the wrong person goes to a kid’s house who’s raising them for a FFA show and says, ‘Oh, you intend to fight them because you got them separated in different pens,’ then they’re facing a felony charge, and they’re not doing anything but keeping them safe.”
Roosters of certain breeds just naturally attack, he said.
“We can bring four or five stags (young roosters a year old or less) to your house and just turn them loose when they’re babies, let them grow up together, full brothers, and one day you’re going to walk out there and three or four of them are going to be dead,” DeVore said. “It’s genetic. It has nothing to do with being on drugs and making them mean.”
Cockfighting cases also pending in Carter, Marshall counties
Meanwhile, prosecutors in two southern Oklahoma counties have filed cockfighting-related charges, including a felony against a former official with the Oklahoma Gamefowl Commission. It’s widely believed that no prosecutor in Oklahoma had filed cockfighting-related felonies since 2002 until DeVore’s group began pushing their bill last year.
Chance Campo, from Lone Grove who is still listed on the Oklahoma Gamefowl Commission’s website as a district director, has been charged in Carter County with servicing or facilitating a cockfight. A preliminary hearing conference was continued Monday to Feb. 22.
He was arrested as the result of a June 19 cockfight bust. Eleven others were charged and face either felonies or misdemeanors.
In Marshall County, three men were arrested in June for illegal cockfighting. Herminio Mendoza. Jamie Bell and Jackson Bell are charged with possessing birds for fighting. The Bells are also charged with having and operating a cockfighting pit west of Madill. Their preliminary hearing is set for Tuesday, Jan. 30.
Mendoza, 61, pleaded guilty in November to a reduced misdemeanor of disturbing the peace. Sentencing was deferred until Nov. 8, 2025. He was placed on probation and ordered to perform 100 hours of community service work or pay $1,000 to a local nonprofit organization as well as a $500 fine and court costs of $912.