Animal Pit Fights

Hip-hop stars, drug dealers, and notorious gang members frequented every cock fighting derby. Because guns and other weapons were openly exposed, disputes often resulted in assaults and homicides.

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One of the benefits of developing good informants is that they sometimes recruit other informants. In the early 2000s one of my Mexican Mafia informants recruited a friend from his old neighborhood in Rancho San Pedro. Let's call him Julio.

Julio was a cousin to Mexican Mafia gang members from Wilmington and the notorious Grajeda family. He was not a gang member himself but he grew up around them. His children unfortunately had not avoided gang membership. Alcohol, drugs, and family violence had sent Julio to jail several times, but robbery, burglary, and real gang violence were not his thing. His thing was cock fighting.

Julio raised fighting roosters. He was addicted to watching and wagering on animal pit fights. Like a drug addict talking about his first fix, Julio's eyes would glaze over and he would become excited when he talked about these animal fights. Julio often told me stories about the popularity of these underground animal pit fights with drug dealers, wealthy sports or entertainment figures, and gang members of almost every ethnic background.

Make no mistake about it; I too am an animal lover. But shocking as it may seem to you PETA members, cock fighting and animal pit fights are century-old "blood sports" and common to many cultures. Today in almost every state in the U.S. blood sports are illegal. However, before the end of the Civil War they were a normal part of the American culture. And, it was not uncommon to see the local police officiating at these events.

Julio began his career raising a little Bantam Rooster as a teenager. He was invited by neighbors to join in an underground cock fight. His pet rooster won the fight and the prize was more money than the young Julio had ever earned in his life. He was hooked.

Pit Fighting in Southern California

In Los Angeles, outlawed cock fights continue to be common, especially in the Filipino and Hispanic neighborhoods. Two specially bred game cocks are placed in an enclosure to fight for the entertainment of the fans and gamblers. Unfortunately, the contest often results in the death of one or sometimes both of the birds. Long steel blades called gaffs are attached to the game cocks as artificial spurs. These three-inch daggers cause punctured lungs, broken bones, and pierced eyes.

In my early days as a patrol officer in East Los Angeles, I once accompanied detectives on a police raid of an illegal cock fight. While the other deputies chased illegal aliens and their illegal birds around, newspaper photographs showed me handling the genetically bred aggressive fighting game birds. No one ever asked me how I acquired this skill. The truth is that as a kid I had sometimes assisted my favorite Uncle in the training of fighting game birds.

My informant Julio won and lost many thousands of dollars betting on and fighting these birds. Julio's value as an informant came from more than just his ability to tell me about illegal gambling and animal pit fights. It came from the fact that "average people" like him mixed with underworld figures in these events. Hip-hop stars, drug dealers, and notorious gang members frequented every derby. Because of their presence, the use of drugs, and tens of thousands of dollars changing hands, guns and other weapons were openly exposed. Disputes often resulted in assaults and homicides.

Julio said that these fights in the San Pedro and Long Beach area draw people from all over Southern California. Notice is given through an underground communication system of a scheduled event. Bookies and drug dealers relay the date and time of the event to their regular customers. Patrons are directed to a parking lot or remote parking area and vans or limos shuttle fans to the backyard or warehouse fighting arena, so that the events don't draw police attention. Bookies take bets on the outcome of each contest in the derby and drugs, booze, and food are sold between bouts.

Like in the ancient Coliseum in Rome, bears, bulls, badgers, and other animals have fought in the pits. But the big money and possible organized crime connections seem to be found most often in the very popular sport of dog fighting. A well known Long Beach gangsta rapper not only attended many of the pit fights my informant attended, but also fought his own fighting dogs in the pits. Gang members invest thousands in raising animals bred to fight in the animal pits. Even the fighting cocks could cost many thousands of dollars.


In the early 19th century, English dog fighters began breeding dogs famous for hunting larger animals like bulls to fight in the pits. This dog was the Staffordshire bull terrier. The U.S. United Kennel Club began importing the terriers into this country in 1817. This breed fought in street and officially sanctioned pit fights until the early 20th century, when fighting was banned in almost every state. However, the enforcement of these laws was lax.

In the poorer sections of most major cities the pit fights continued. Other breeds were imported to fight the popular champion, the American Pit Bull. The Dogo Argentino and Presa Canario are also popular today in the pits. Some of these breeds are outlawed in some countries. But I have observed that it is not the breeding so much as it is the beating that causes these dogs to be dangerous.

Unfortunately, these street breeders and trainers of fighting dogs don't apparently watch the "Dog Whisperer." In South Central LA gang members were known to beat up and feed their dogs PCP (the hallucinogenic) to make them meaner. Many unsuitable dogs are needlessly destroyed because they are not big enough or aggressive enough to fight in the pits. Many die from injuries sustained in the contests.

Famous Cases

In a famous celebrity case in July of 2007, National Football League Falcons player Michael Vick and three associates were indicted by a federal grand jury for a dog fighting enterprise called "Bad Newz Kennels." In the indictment Vick allegedly "executed approximately eight dogs that did not perform well in 'testing' by various methods, including hanging, drowning, and/or slamming at least one dog's body to the ground." One losing dog was killed by electrocution.

But the strangest gang and fighting dog case occurred in January of 2001 when two dangerous Presa Canario "Dogs of War" owned by Aryan Brotherhood member Paul "Cornfed" Schneider attacked and killed lacrosse coach Diane Whipple in the hallway outside her San Francisco apartment.

Several of these dogs were purchased with monies won by Schneider in nuisance suits against the prison system. The Aryan Brotherhood member was housed in the maximum Security Housing Unit (SHU) at California's most secure prison, Pelican Bay State Prison. These dogs were bred and raised by friends of "Cornfed" as fighting dogs and to protect gang drug houses. Most of the dogs were sold or traded to other street and prison gang members, but two remained with Schneider's lawyers.

Schneider, who was born in 1962, was legally adopted by the two attorneys who he had given possession of the dogs, Attorneys Robert Noel and Marjorie Knoller. Because of the "family" and "attorney client" privileges, they could visit and correspond with "Cornfed" without their letters having to be searched by the prison staff. After Whipple's death, a search warrant check of correspondence between Cornfed and the Knollers revealed pornographic photos and drawings of Marjorie and the dogs.

Keep an Eye Out

If a method could be found to know the location of one of these underground kennels or pit fights, a significant raid could be staged to capture the attending drug dealers, gang members, and the people who raise and illegally fight these animals. Even in the suburbs and rural areas these pit fights flourish.

Keep your ears and eyes open and keep in contact with Animal Control and the SPCA for reports of discarded carcasses of dead fighting animals, and develop your own contact like Julio.

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Sergeant (Ret.)
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