Quick Take:

Brett Kenneth Miller, accused of operating a cockfighting ring in Watsonville, has a long criminal record that spans much of California. He is due back in court the week of March 13.

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A man with a history as one of Santa Cruz County’s most prolific criminals appeared in court Thursday, accused of operating a cockfighting ring.

The cockfighting allegations are just the latest criminal accusation against 58-year-old Brett Kenneth Miller, whose rap sheet extends back to the early 1970s and includes convictions for robbery, battery and extortion, according to Santa Cruz Superior Court records.

Santa Cruz County authorities busted a cockfighting ring in Watsonville on Feb. 16, arresting Miller and 21-year-old Angie Gonzalez. Animal control officers removed about 200 chickens and several emaciated dogs, and authorities also found a number of firearms at the Ranport Road property.

Prosecutor Nicole Ellen Jones told Lookout that authorities took 127 live roosters, 27 dead roosters, 43 hens and 12 dogs from the property.

Miller faces charges of cruelty to an animal, felony possession of firearms and ammunition and tampering with the identification number of a firearm. Jones said she could amend the complaint against Miller with additional charges, depending on the evidence that comes forward.

Miller’s criminal record spans much of California and includes burglaries, bank robberies, extortion schemes and even jail escapes.

Miller hails from Watsonville, and his criminal record is well documented locally. A 1995 Pajaronian report shows numerous arrests and convictions during the 1970s through the 1990s. In 1977, at age 13, he had his first run-in with local authorities for beating a cat to death. In 1981, he escaped from Monterey County Juvenile Hall but was caught the same night.

His first crimes as an adult came in 1982, when he was caught cultivating marijuana and carrying a gun in a public place. He was later placed in a diversion program — a service designed to redirect young offenders from the justice system.

He was arrested in 1985 after sheriff’s deputies said they discovered evidence that Miller was involved in a plot to kidnap the manager of a Wells Fargo bank on Freedom Boulevard and to rob the bank. Santa Cruz Superior Court records show that he was convicted of criminal conspiracy, robbery and extortion. He was also convicted on those same charges for a number of 1984 burglaries in Redlands. He escaped authorities at least three times, once from a sheriff’s van and twice from the Santa Cruz County Jail.

He violated his parole in Tulare, where he was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon and resisting arrest. He was sentenced to a maximum of one year in prison, but did not serve the entire term.

“I’m a really good-hearted person. People make me out to be a lot more wild than I really am,” Miller wrote in a letter to Santa Cruz Superior Court in 1989, according to the 1995 Pajaronian article. “I promise you will never hear from me again in terms of going to jail.”

Yet his criminal convictions continued. He was accused of two more bank robberies in Merced County, to which he pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to 21 years and 10 months in federal prison.

Miller is due back in court for a preliminary hearing, tentatively set for the week of March 13. Both Miller and Gonzalez have been released on bail. Santa Cruz Superior Court Judge Syda Cogliati established terms of bail for both on Thursday, which include a prohibition on guns and ammunition. They will also be subject to search and seizure.

Max Chun is the general-assignment correspondent at Lookout Santa Cruz. Max’s position has pulled him in many different directions, seeing him cover development, COVID, the opioid crisis, labor, courts...