A courtroom in Miami-Dade County was overflowing with defendants Friday as 158 people walked in to face accusations they were involved in a cockfighting ring.
The plethora of defendants was arrested a few weeks ago when an undercover narcotics operation at a home on 254th Avenue and 212th Street discovered the cockfighting ring. Some defendants face cockfighting related charges while others face charges of selling cocaine, possessing illegal firearms, and animal cruelty.
The army of defendants, supporters, and lawyers all crowded into the fourth-floor the Miami-Dade County courthouse for arraignments. Many of the accused pled not guilty to the charges they were facing, meaning many of the cases could end up with a jury trial.
Ivan Ortega, one of the defendants, pled not guilty and said he was mistreated by Miami-Dade Police officers during the raid. Ortega said police stripped him naked and then took his money. He and others said cops took their credit cards, cell phones, and stole large amounts of cash found at the scene.
Miami-Dade Police said an internal affairs investigation has been launched into the allegations of police misconduct.
When the initial raid went down, police initially detained almost 200 people at the home. Some were released and not charged, but others said they were doing something akin to a horse race.
“Basically, it’s like what they do in the horse track,” defendant Fransisco Benitez said. “They whoop the horses, they burn them, they give them a little tattoo, they burn them through the butt. But like I said, there was no animal cruelty.”
Many of the defendants were offered pretrial diversion programs along with a fine in exchange for having the charges dropped. Those who didn’t accept the pretrial diversion must now get ready for a trial that is tentatively scheduled for July 14.
Court documents showed the alleged ring leader of the cockfighting ring, Francisco Ruiz Arias, was arrested 16 years ago on two counts of fighting and baiting animals.