FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) -- Outraged animal rights activists released a video Tuesday showing a uniformed Kentucky State Police trooper apparently watching without intervening at a cockfight in the state's mountain region.
The Humane Society of the United States unveiled the video at a news conference showing the unidentified trooper standing among spectators while roosters attacked one another in an arena near Manchester.
The video raised concerns in the highest levels of state government, prompting Gov. Steve Beshear to call the head of the state police to get an explanation. Beshear spokeswoman Kerri Richardson said she couldn't provide details of the conversation, other than to say an internal investigation is being conducted.
John Goodwin, head of animal fighting issues for the Humane Society, said the video illustrates a growing cockfighting industry in Kentucky, which is home to an estimated 1 million of the gamecocks that are used in the battles.
Cockfighting is a misdemeanor in Kentucky, punishable by up to a year in jail. However, Goodwin said the law is so ambiguous that it leaves a perceived loophole that has allowed cockfighters to avoid prosecution. At issue is a phrase in the state's animal cruelty law that some believe makes it illegal only to fight four-legged animals in Kentucky.
While 39 other states have passed laws making cockfighting a felony, Kentucky lawmakers have refused to follow suit. As a result, Goodwin said, cockfighting is flourishing in the state.
"Kentucky is becoming a magnet for these people who want to bring these roosters here to these big gambling houses with knives on their legs to have a fight to the death," he said.
Besides the state trooper, the video appears to show two local law enforcement officers at the cockfight.
"We believe it sends a very bad message that law enforcement is tolerating this," Goodwin said.
State police officials said the trooper shown on the video had been sent to the arena to investigate a complaint. They declined to say what kind of complaint or to identify the trooper.
"The troopers, as well as other local law enforcement, have responded to this location on numerous occasion for complaints of illegal activity not related to cockfighting," said state police Lt. David Jude said. "When illegal activity has been observed by the officers, charges have been filed. And those have been related to drug and alcohol activity."
The brief video contained footage shot by hidden camera this year and last.
Goodwin called on the Kentucky legislature to pass legislation this year that would make cockfighting a felony and clear up the ambiguity.
"If the legislature doesn't take action to fix this problem, then Kentucky's going to see even more of this," he said. "All of the neighboring states have either taken action to set strong penalties for this or they're in the process of doing so.
State police have raided cockfighting arenas in Kentucky in the past, filing both felony gambling charges and misdemeanor animal cruelty charges. Those raids waned after a Montgomery County judge dismissed animal cruelty charges against more than 500 people a cockfight near Mount Sterling.
The owner of that 700-seat cockfighting arena pleaded guilty in 2006 to conspiracy to promote gambling. He received a 2-year suspended prison sentence after he and his wife agreed not to allow cockfighting or gambling on their property.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)