NEW HAVEN, CT — Federal officials and local police made several arrests Monday afternoon in what is being called the largest illegal Pokémon fighting ring operating in the United States.
|Authorities lead away the suspected ringleader|
The arrests bring to light the shocking underground world of gambling and poké cruelty long thought a relic in today’s schools. Authorities worked together in an unprecedented sting operation resulting in 35 arrests, with more planned as plea bargains are made. Charges of illegal gambling, animal cruelty, possession and training of an animal to fight were levied against 13 of the initial arrests, some participants saw additional charges of possession of an incendiary weapon. Misdemeanor charges are expected to be filed against the other fighting ring participants.
Prosecutors charge that the pokés were made to fight against each other daily by their owners, and were kept in extremely small red-and-white balls when they were not in the ring–oftentimes without food or water. Because of public outrage, officials suspect that some of the arrested may be tried as adults.
In a press conference held shortly after the arrest, FBI Spokesman Chris Bayne discussed details of the arrest, as well as the justice department’s plan to prosecute such a large number of juvenile offenders.
“We are happy to get the ringleaders of this particular circuit off the playgrounds, and we hope that they are made to answer for their crimes in the manner prescribed by the law,” explained Bayne. “We feel that we have solid evidence against all those who were brought in, however, the arrests were also meant to serve as an example to other children who may be casually invested in local Pokémon fighting organizations. Hopefully, they will come to understand the seriousness of the activity in which they are involved, and discontinue their efforts.”
In the meantime, more than 250 pokés have been handed over to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Pokés (SPCP) for care.
|Many of the recovered Pokés sustained serious injuries over their long fighting careers|
Sara Barnes, the SPCP’s head of the Pokémon rehabilitation division explained the challenges in treating the recovered pokés.
“A lot of these animals suffered severe, long-term abuse,” says Barnes. “They have not only have sustained injuries consistent with normal animal fighting–scars, gashes, and missing or mangled body parts–but many of them have third degree burns or injuries consistent with being shocked repeatedly or poisoned. It’s all we can do to make them comfortable. In a way it’s fortunate that so many people end up abandoning their Jigglypuffs and we have so many of them, so that the animals can be sedated in a non-invasive way.”
Beyond simply treating the pokés’ injuries, Barnes described the difficulty in rehabilitating the recovered creatures.
“High-profile cases such as this one always generate public interest, and we get a lot of ’sympathy calls’ from people who feel an intense, short-term outpouring of compassion for the pokés and want to adopt them, but we would caution people who do not have experience with rescued animals from attempting to take in any creature that had been used in a fighting ring–many of the pokés have socialization problems as a result of being confined in such small little balls and forced to fight. In fact, we feel that some of the more evolved pokés may simply have to be put down because they are just too violent to place safely.”
Meanwhile, attorneys for the suspects have asserted that the arrests were procedurally flawed, and that much of the evidence is circumstantial.
Paul Fischer, the attorney for one of those arrested suggested that police used unnecessary force and tasered his client after he had been handcuffed, a charge the police reject.
“You have to understand that the arrest scene was utter chaos,” explains Bayne, “When the officers raided the ring, all of the suspects released their pokés in an attempt to create a distraction so that they could escape. There were at least three Pikachus running around, zapping everything in sight and that likely included some of the suspects. Five officers sustained minor burns attempting to control these creatures.”
The arraignments are scheduled to take place today.