The animal rights group that claims bullfighters in Thornton violated state law by using three-inch nails to anger bulls in the ring is continuing its investigation in several counties before approaching law enforcement agencies, according to an attorney for the organization.
A humane officer for Animal Cruelty Investigations attended bullfights in the Los Angeles County community of Artesia on May 23 and then in Thornton on May 29, attempting to prove that bullfighters illegally used nails in what are termed "bloodless bullfights," ACI attorney David Castleman said.
In the bullfights, participants try to attach poles tipped with Velcro to a Velcro pad secured to the bull's back. ACI claims nails had been inserted in the tips of the poles and beneath the Velcro pad on the bull.
San Joaquin County Sheriff's spokesman Les Garcia said there is no local investigation at this time because ACI hasn't provided any photographs, film or actual bullfighting poles with nails to back up its allegations.
That's because the humane officer, identified by Los Angeles County court records as Andrew J. Stewart, will continue to attend bullfights in California to collect evidence, Castleman said.
The attorney said he hopes to coordinate future animal cruelty charges in what he described as an "overarching agency," because the case will involve alleged incidents in several counties.
ACI spokeswoman Jane Garrison said earlier this week that her organization's goal is to eliminate bullfighting in California, even if it's the so-called "bloodless bullfighting."
Animal Cruelty Investigations at a glanceAnimal Cruelty Investigations is a nonprofit organization under the auspices of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals and the State Humane Association of California.
The state association isn't an official government organization, but several cities, counties and other groups are members, including San Joaquin and Sacramento county Animal Control and Stockton police. The cities of Lodi and Galt are not members.
Andrew J. Stewart, a humane officer for Animal Cruelty Investigations, was reappointed as a Level 2 officer on Feb. 28 by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza. According to the California Corporations Code, a Level 2 officer can exercise peace officer powers in animal cruelty cases, but he cannot possess a gun.
Qualifications include completing 40 hours of continuing education training every three years.
Officers may serve only in the county in which he or she is appointed, according to the Corporations Code. An officer may serve temporarily in another county if the humane officer gives notice requesting consent to the sheriff of the county in which he or she intends to serve and acquires consent from the sheriff.
Another bullfight coming to Thornton
The Stockton Portuguese Club will host a bullfight in connection with its Holy Ghost Festival at 6:30 p.m. June 12 at Praca Sao Joao arena on North Sacramento Boulevard, just behind the Portuguese community and Mater Ecclesiae Catholic Church.
Meanwhile, questions have risen in Thornton and Lodi whether Stewart was authorized to act as an animal rights officer outside of Los Angeles, the county in which he was appointed in Superior Court.
The California Corporations Code says that humane officers may only operate in their home county unless the sheriff in another county, such as San Joaquin, gives permission.
Garcia, the San Joaquin County spokesman, said that Stewart talked to deputies once he arrived in Thornton and explained what he was doing at the bullfight, which was part of a week-long Elk Grove Portuguese festival.
The sheriff's department assigned extra deputies to Thornton because of the large crowd at the bullfight. Garcia emphasized; however, that the deputies weren't assigned specifically to the bullfight, but to the Thornton community in general.
Between fights last week, Stewart, wearing a thick flannel shirt, blue jeans and a black baseball cap worn backwards, entered the ring with his accusations against the matadors. It was between shows. One bull had just left the arena, and the next one hadn't entered yet, according to Sam Tunnell, of Acampo, who said he witnessed the incident.
"He was halfway across the arena, on his way out, when he pulled his badge out of the pocket of the flannel shirt he was wearing," Tunnell said.
Two men, Cesar Rocha, 38, of Gustine, and Darren Nunes, 23, of Los Banos, were arrested on a misdemeanor charge of assaulting an officer and are due in court on June 15. Tunnell and other witnesses said that Nunes confronted Stewart, and Rocha became involved in a verbal dispute with the humane officer.
Castleman said that Stewart was not using any peace officer powers. All he was doing was investigating and collecting information, which he will report to law enforcement, Castleman said.
Stewart reportedly attended a bullfight Monday in the small Merced County community of Stevinson, and he will attend others, the attorney said.
The Stockton Portuguese Society will host a bullfight in Thornton on June 12, and others are scheduled on June 8 and 15 in Stevinson, June 19 in Tracy, June 20 in Chowchilla and July 20 in Gustine.
Thornton hosts its own bullfights each October during its Our Lady of Fatima Festival.