Three men charged in alleged Florence cockfighting ring 

  • One of hundreds of roosters seized from a suspected illegal cockfighting site in Northampton is caged at MSPCA's Nevins Farm, Tuesday, May 29, 2018, in Methuen.  ASSOCIATED PRESS/ELISE AMENDOLA

  • Roosters seized from a suspected illegal cockfighting site in Northampton are fed by a volunteer at MSPCA's Nevins Farm, Tuesday, May 29, 2018, in Methuen.  ASSOCIATED PRESS/ELISE AMENDOLA

Staff Writer
Published: 8/26/2020 10:25:59 PM

NORTHAMPTON — More than two years after city police discovered over 400 birds living in squalid conditions in Florence that were suspected of being raised for cockfighting, three men have been charged with animal cruelty in the case.

Miguel Rodriguez, 59, of Holyoke, Salvador Cruz, 60, of Florence, and John Mercado, 49, of Easthampton, were each charged in Northampton District Court with owning, possessing or training fighting animals and animal cruelty, according to court documents. All three men are scheduled to be arraigned in late September, according to the court clerk’s office.

An annual barn inspection by Assistant Animal Control Officer Justine Rule on May 23, 2018 at the Ravenwold Greenhouses at 1095 Florence Road in Florence alerted police to questionable activity at the farm, according to a report filed by Northampton Police Detective Adam Van Buskirk.

Rule was told by the farm’s owner, Richard Adams, that the three chicken coops on the property were all rented by different people. During her inspection, Rule noticed that one of the coops was poorly ventilated and extremely hot and that some chickens were individually caged and lacked food and water, according to a report written by Animal Control Officer Shayla Howe.

Rule left the property without speaking to anybody, but spoke to Howe, who returned with another officer the next day. According to Howe’s report obtained through court documents, Adams said he did not know of any cockfighting activity on his property.

Adams took Howe to one of the coops where Howe wrote that she noticed a pair of sparring gloves — a sign of training chickens for cockfighting — in plain view. Howe also wrote that she noticed numerous roosters with cut spurs, shaved and missing sections of feathers, scarring and intentional body modifications.

“Based on my training and experience, the body modifications and scarring I observed are uncommon if chickens and roosters are housed and cared for properly and this led me to believe that this facility is likely used for cockfighting,” Howe wrote.

After an officer with the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA) agreed with Howe’s conclusions, Detective Jared LaValle applied for a search warrant for the northern and southern chicken coops, Howe wrote. While the search warrants were being obtained, Mercado allowed police inside the northern coop, where Howe noticed the birds’ dirty living conditions.

“There were dead birds on the ground in varying stages of decay,” she wrote.

On the night of May 24, officers executed a search warrant of this coop, seizing a total 138 chickens and two pheasants, according to Van Buskirk. The MSPCA identified 105 of the seized chickens as roosters and 33 as hens, he wrote.

Also found was a black backpack containing wing clips, artificial spurs, a bench scale, a crate, extracts, iodine tincture and other items “all indicative of cockfighting,” Van Buskirk wrote.

On May 25, the southern chicken coop was searched and yielded 285 total birds, 127 of which were roosters, 105 were hens and the sex of 54 was unidentified, Van Buskirk wrote. Also found inside that coop were other items used to train birds for cockfightin such as a training ring with blood spatter, medical supplies and artificial spurs. Howe wrote that one rooster was found in this coop was missing half of its scalp and an eye.

Eventually, the third coop was searched on May 29. According to Howe’s report, police seized 48 birds from this coop. She said all three coops housed roosters in individual cages — which she said is an uncommon practice — and that the three coops had “unacceptable living conditions and cockfighting paraphernalia.”

“Based on the conditions listed above, the birds were being bred, trained and actively used for the purpose of cockfighting,” Howe wrote. She added, “Any reasonable person would believe these birds were mistreated and neglected based on conditions in which these birds were found.”

Northampton police on June 1 interviewed Adams, the owner of Ravenwold Greenhouses, during which he told police his brother George had run the daily operations of the farm until he died in December 2016. Adams said that he allowed tenants to operate under the agreement they made with George, that he knew most of the tenants by first name only, that all rent payments were in cash and there were no formal tenant or lease agreements.

According to Van Buskirk, Adams indicated to police that Mercado was the tenant of the northern coop, Rodriguez and Cruz were the renters of the southern coop and Rodriguez was the tenant of the third coop. Adams allegedly did identify photos of Rodriguez and Cruz, but not of Mercado, he wrote.

In an interview with police, Rodriguez allegedly admitted that he was a tenant of the third coop, but denied any involvement with cockfighting and said he did not own any birds in any other structures on the farm. Rodriguez had previously been arrested in Connecticut in 2006 on a charge of cruelty to animals after police found him and 20 others engaging in cockfighting, LaValle’s report reads. Rodriguez allegedly told police he raised the chickens on the farm to sell meat.

“He said that it had been a long time since he had seen a cockfight,” Van Buskirk wrote, though LaValle’s report says Rodriguez later claimed he had never seen a cockfight. “He would further explain that any injuries seen on the birds were from when people would let them loose and they would fight.”

Mercado reportedly admitted to police in an interview that he was the tenant of the northern coop, but denied any involvement with cockfighting on the farm, according to Van Buskirk. He also allegedly identified Rodriguez as the tenant of the third coop, and Rodriguez and Cruz as co-tenants of the southern coop, while also telling police he raised the birds for shows and food.

In August 2018, police traveled to Cruz’s address in Florence, where Cruz said he does mechanical work on the farm, paying $50 a month to rent a shed behind the chicken coops— a deal he said he first made with Adam’s brother, George, Van Buskirk wrote. Cruz allegedly denied raising chickens on the farm, saying that he had no association with any of the coops on the farm or their contents.

The MSPCA brought the recovered birds to the MSPCA-Nevins Farm in Methuen in late May 2018. Around 190 birds were euthanized and nearly 200 found new homes at sanctuaries and private homes.

Michael Connors can be reached at mconnors@gazettenet.com.


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