A former Kentucky sheriff’s deputy who helped run a cockfighting operation despite warnings from other officers has been sentenced to one month in jail followed by eight months of home detention.
Jacklyn Johnson, 31, also was fined $250.
U.S. District Judge Claria Horn Boom sentenced Johnson in federal court in London on Tuesday.
Johnson was a Laurel County deputy sheriff, serving as a court bailiff, when Kentucky State Police went to investigate a report of animal cruelty late one night in July 2021 at a large metal building at Bald Rock, a rural community in the county.
An organization called Showing Animals Respect and Kindness, which has worked to document cockfighting in Kentucky and elsewhere and pushed authorities to investigate, reported the cockfighting operation at Bald Rock.
Johnson helped her father run the fights, collecting money from spectators and from people entering roosters in fights, and weighing and matching roosters, according to court documents.
She advertised the fights online and recruited people to participate, the prosecutors, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kate K. Smith and Andrea L. Mattingly Williams, said in a sentencing memorandum.
The venue, which had operated for years, included several fighting pits, stadium-style seating, a concession area and an area to sharpen the metal gaffs attached to roosters’ legs to cut and stab each other, according to the court record.
Johnson pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate the law against cockfighting and to attending a cockfight.
She was the last of nine people charged in the case, including her father, Rickie D. Johnson, and her boyfriend, Oakley “Whitey” Hatfield, to be sentenced.
Johnson’s attorney, Douglas G. Benge, advocated for her to be placed on probation.
Johnson had a difficult childhood because both parents were substance abusers, but she overcame that to become the first high-school graduate in her family and went on to get a two-year college degree in criminal justice, Benge said.
Benge also said Johnson’s grandparents and father were all involved in cockfighting, so she had been around it all her life.
“That was the life that she knew,” Benge said.
Johnson didn’t run the cockfights but essentially just did what her father told her, Benge said.
Williams, however, argued for jail time for Johnson.
Johnson may not have known that it was a federal felony to help operate a cockfighting venue, but she knew it was against state law.
Williams also pointed to the bloody nature of cockfighting, saying the goal is for roosters to kill their opponents.
“This is a brutal and awful crime,” she said.
Prosecutors said in a sentencing memorandum that Johnson admitted to coworkers at the sheriff’s office that she worked at two cockfighting pits, one called CJ’s and the other Bald Rock.
If Johnson had gone to trial, people who worked at the sheriff’s office would have testified they warned her not to take part in cockfighting, according to prosecutors.
One colleague warned her specifically not the be involved at Bald Rock because it had a a reputation for allowing other criminal conduct and attracting criminals from other states, according to a court document.
But Johnson was not dissuaded, and even talked of hiding her sheriff’s vehicle when fights were going on so it wouldn’t scare away cockfighters and spectators, according to the prosecution memo.
“She knew her conduct was illegal, and as a law enforcement officer, she continued to disregard, and disrespect, the law,” prosecutors said in the sentencing memo.
Boom cited several factors that argued for leniency for Johnson, including her good work history, her lack of any other criminal record, childhood neglect and the seriousness of a felony conviction
But she said the fact that Johnson was in law enforcement while committing a crime argued for at least some time behind bars.
The judge also said it was unfortunate that no one from the sheriff’s office stepped in to stop her from taking part in cockfighting.
“Whatever the reason is for that, it’s very unfortunate,” Boom said.
Johnson was the last of nine people charged in the case to be sentenced. Others charged included her father, Rickie D. Johnson, and her boyfriend, Oakley “Whitey” Hatfield, to be sentenced.