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Attorney Jude Faccidomo in the Miami Herald: “No charges to be filed in cockfighting ring probe”


Miami cockfighting case fizzles. Prosecutors blame animal-rights group for fouling it up

By David Ovalle

November 14, 2018 01:10 PM

Updated November 15, 2018 03:00 PM

Members of an undercover investigations group known as the Animal Recovery Mission, dressed in black uniforms and some wearing masks, surrounded a property in Southwest Miami-Dade earlier this year. Their target: a suspected illegal cockfighting ring they’d spent months investigating.

The group’s outspoken founder, Richard Couto, called 911. With TV news cameras rolling, Miami-Dade police officers arrived as cars and people fled the scene. Couto, on camera, angrily cursed at the cops for allowing patrons of “one of the worst animal fighting operations in the United States” to scatter — at one point, he blocked a woman from driving away, leading to a brief but tense showdown with officers.

“Our demands are this: for the people on this property to be arrested on felony charges, to have every single animal on this property be seized, rescued and be brought to ARM sanctuary,” said Couto, wearing military-style camouflage. “We are not asking for this. We are demanding it now!”

Five months later, prosecutors have decided against filing any charges in the case. In a sharp rebuke of the animal-rescue group, Miami-Dade Assistant State Attorney Michael Filteau cited “serious ethical concerns” about ARM’s tactics, which include Couto refusing to work with cops, potentially tampering with evidence and even dragging cockfight attendees out of bushes by force.

“I believe that filing such charges would tend to encourage ARM … to conduct future undercover investigations without appropriate supervision and support from law enforcement agencies and thus engage in behavior that is both extremely unsafe and potentially illegal,” Filteau wrote in a final memo on the case released on Wednesday.

The case has exposed simmering tensions between the much-publicized animal-rights group and law-enforcement agencies across the state that accuse Couto of skirting the law and putting publicity before making viable cases. For his part, Couto insists that ARM investigators — he says most of them ex-cops or military members — are “trained better than law enforcement” and can put together “stronger cases” for prosecution.

“We don’t need to work with law enforcement,” Couto said Friday in an interview with the Miami Herald. “There is very little difference between ARM investigators and, let’s say, an undercover narcotics unit with the Miami-Dade police department.”

On Wednesday, he called the Miami-Dade state attorney’s decision “alarming” and said prosecutors and cops “do not want the workload” of following up on ARM’s probes.

“Now, these animals have no one. The only group that investigates these crimes is Animal Recovery,” said Couto, adding: “I’m doubling investigations in Miami-Dade County.”

Couto, a former board member and investigator with South Florida’s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, started ARM in 2010 and has conducted a slew of undercover operations over the years, including infiltrating at least 25 illegal cockfighting rings over the years.

He made a splash immediately, targeting a rural region of Northwest Miami-Dade known as the C-9 Basin. Couto’s investigations and media barrage revealed rampant animal abuses in the area northwest of Hialeah, forcing the county to start a task force to crack down on inhumane slaughterhouses, cockfighting arenas and hundreds of illegally built structures.

Cuoto has proven a master at garnering media attention for his operations.

Read more here – https://www.miamiherald.com/latest-news/article221374475.html

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