Sheriff Vern Warnke on Tuesday announced an investigation into several Pentecost associations he said have been using spikes and nails to prod bulls during cultural and religious bullfights that have been advertised as “bloodless.”
At a news conference Tuesday in Merced, Warnke held up a flag that read “California Portuguese Bloodless Bullfighting Org.” At the bottom of the short flag pole, Warnke pointed out a sharp nail, more than 2 inches long.
“I’m all for religious freedom and celebrating culture, but we’re not going to put up with this,” Warnke told reporters.
Warnke said he received an email late Monday from San Joaquin County Sheriff Steve Moore relating a tip that such instruments had been used on the bulls at the Stevinson Pentecost Bullfights on Lander Avenue “for years.”
An event put on Tuesday by the Turlock Pentecost Association attracted more than 5,000 spectators. Deputies, who already were scheduled to conduct security for the event, launched an investigation and discovered numerous spikes, concealed by hook-pile tape at the end of each pole.
Deputies confiscated the poles and the animals were not believed to have been hurt Tuesday. “Had deputies not intervened, many animals probably would’ve fallen victim to these brutal acts of animal violence,” officials said in a news release.
He said deputies are looking to examine each bull used in Tuesday’s event, but said investigators have been told the bulls were “not available.”
“Mysteriously the animals were sold from last night to today,” Warnke said, adding that investigators are continuing their efforts to examine the animals.
No arrests were made Tuesday. Warnke said the investigation still was in its early stages.
“To help ensure this type of behavior doesn’t happen in the future, Sheriff Warnke will be revisiting rules and regulations pertaining to these types of events and any permits issued by the Sheriff’s Office,” officials said in the statement. “The sheriff is looking into forcing the hand of the event coordinators to have a licensed veterinarian on site each time an event transpires to inspect the well being of all animals.”
Warnke said he believes owners of the bulls knew the animals were being injured and “were doing nothing about it.” He said he did not believe any of the animals were killed.
The Sheriff’s Office has provided security at dozens of similar bullfights in Stevinson and Gustine in recent years. Warnke acknowledged many of the groups appear to “have pulled the wool over our eyes.”
Anyone with information is asked to contact the Merced County Sheriff’s Office at 209-385-7445. Tips are confidential and callers may remain anonymous.