Ranchers settle lawsuit in rooster slaughter

Steve Garrison

FARMINGTON — The father and son ranchers whose hundreds of roosters and chickens were seized and killed in 2009 after a cockfighting investigation have settled their federal lawsuit against a New Mexico State Police agent.

John Boyd, an attorney for father-and-son plaintiffs Reyes and Mario Marin, confirmed today that an agreement was reached on Friday at a settlement conference, but declined to discuss the terms until the agreement is signed, which is expected to happen later this week.

Reyes and Mario Marin alleged in the lawsuit that New Mexico State Police agent Max Salas, along with other local and state officials, violated their constitutional rights by seizing about 435 roosters and chickens from the Marins' ranch in San Juan County on May 4, 2009.

Salas seized the birds during a joint investigation into cockfighting at the ranch by New Mexico State Police, the San Juan County Sheriff's Office and the New Mexico Attorney General's Animal Cruelty Task Force, according to court records.

The agent also seized about 285 chicks and 200 eggs, records state. The seized poultry were killed due to concerns the birds may have been fed steroids and other non-prescribed medications.

Boyd said the poultry slaughtered were valued at more than $200,000.

The Marins were never charged with cockfighting, and they filed their lawsuit alleging unlawful search and seizure in April 2012.

The initial complaint named the San Juan County Sheriff's Office and sheriff's office Capt. Brice Current as defendants, but those claims were dismissed in January 2014 after Current agreed to provide a sworn statement regarding the role of the sheriff's office in the investigation.

A judge later dismissed as defendants former New Mexico Attorney General Gary King, Assistant Attorney General Steven Suttle and members of the animal cruelty taskforce after determining the public officials were protected from litigation under qualified immunity.

Boyd said the Marins intend to appeal those dismissals now that a settlement has been reached.

Officials with the New Mexico Department of Public Safety did not respond to a request for comment. An attorney for Salas also did not respond to requests for comment.

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644.