Cockfighting bill advances; enthusiast defends ‘historic’ sport

Advocate photo by MICHELLE MILLHOLLON -- Cockfighting enthusiast James Demoruelle, of Ville Platte, speaks to state Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, Tuesday outside a House committee room. Show caption
Advocate photo by MICHELLE MILLHOLLON -- Cockfighting enthusiast James Demoruelle, of Ville Platte, speaks to state Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, Tuesday outside a House committee room.

Legislation aimed at strengthening Louisiana’s ban on cockfighting cleared a House committee despite one man’s insistence Tuesday that Jesus must have been OK with pitting chickens against each other.

Senate Bill 523 would expand the state’s ban on cockfighting to include all types of chickens. It also would make it a felony to possess paraphernalia, such as razors, spurs, leather spur covers and other items commonly used in the sport that once was prevalent in south Louisiana but is now illegal.

The bill’s author, state Sen. J.P. Morrell, told the House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice that he needed to tighten the bill a little bit more to ensure the definition of a chicken is not overly expansive. He said he does not want to go so far that he includes falcons.

Morrell, D-New Orleans, also added an exemption for paraphernalia that is at least five years old and might have a historic value.

Ville Platte resident James Demoruelle pulled up a chair next to Morrell at the committee room testimony table and offered another tweak.

Demoruelle, a cockfighting enthusiast, lamented the fate of 700 birds seized last year from a New Orleans East resident. He said the roosters were killed and the hens were sold.

Law enforcement also found cockfighting spurs at Trinh Tran’s home in New Orleans East. Tran was booked with felony cruelty to animals and possession of exotic animals without a permit, among other charges.

Demoruelle said birds should be kept alive until the resolution of criminal charges against the owner.

“He’s left holding the bag. Prior to any charges or adjudication of the case, he’s still the owner. They’re still his,” Demoruelle said, referring to the disposal of Tran’s birds.

State Rep. Steven Pylant, R-Crowville, asked why one person would have 700 birds.

“That’s part of being an American,” Demoruelle said before clarifying that Tran sold the birds to family in Vietnam because there was no place to fight them in Louisiana.

Morrell jumped in to provide more details on Tran’s urban chicken farm.

“I appreciate this gentleman’s passion for what he perceives as a sport,” Morrell said, referring to Demoruelle.

Morrell said Tran raised chickens in oil drums and sold them overseas for cockfighting. He said Tran’s first problem was violating a city ordinance against owning live chickens. The second problem, he said, was a federal violation for raising cockfighting roosters and selling them abroad.

Morrell said Demoruelle wants animal shelters to board the birds until the conclusion of the criminal proceedings. He said no animal shelter can afford to house 700 birds.

“You will literally bankrupt every animal shelter in the state of Louisiana,” Morrell said.

Demoruelle then moved to defending cockfighting itself. He compared it with harvesting.

“This is an agrarian practice. It’s historic. There was cockfighting when all of the prophets and Jesus walked the earth, and none of them chose to say anything in a parable,” he said.

State Rep. Roy Burrell, D-Shreveport, said he’s never known a farmer to harvest chickens by fighting them to the death.

SB523 now moves to the full House.

Afterward, Morrell and Demoruelle shook hands in the committee room corridor. Morrell said he hopes to lay down the issue of cockfighting for a few years should SB523 become state law.

Debate on the bill earlier in the legislative process uncovered the sport of “chicken boxing.” Chicken boxing is described as a nonfatal form of cockfighting in which the birds aren’t outfitted with razors and spurs. The chickens are outfitted with leather spur covers and plastic spur covers.