‘Calculated brutality’: Hanson man facing federal dogfighting charges, several injured dogs seized

HANSON, Mass. — A Hanson man has been arrested on federal dogfighting charges amid a multi-state investigation, accused of having several injured dogs at his home to use them for dogfighting and using Facebook to communicate with dogfighters in other states.

John Murphy, 50, was indicted on nine counts of possessing animals for use in an animal fighting venture, in violation of the federal Animal Welfare Act, Acting U.S. Attorney Josh Levy said Friday.

Murphy, who was arrested Friday morning, was released hours later on personal recognizance. He was released on conditions that he not possess any firearms, he cannot leave Massachusetts, he must surrender his passport, he cannot commit a crime, and that he report any interaction with police. If Murphy violates those conditions, he will have to post $5,000.

He is due back in a Worcester courtroom on April 3.

The case is the first-time federal criminal charges have been brought in Massachusetts under the federal Animal Welfare Act, Levy said.

“Dogfighting for entertainment and profit is cruel, it’s inhumane, and it is a felony under federal law,” Levy said. “Today’s arrest puts an end to the calculated brutality we allege Mr. Murphy perpetuated and should serve as a warning to others who engage in the barbaric practice of dog fighting.”

Authorities seized 13 pit bull-type dogs from Murphy’s residence on East Washington Street in Hanson on June 7, 2023 and also from another residence in Townsend, after obtaining a federal search warrant, according to court documents.

Several of the dogs seized had evidence of severe scarring, wounds, sores and other injuries around the neck, head, on legs, and worn teeth, according to court documents. Several dogs suffered from disease and parasites; None of the dogs appeared spayed or neutered. The dogs are currently in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service, and being cared for by a U.S. Marshals contractor.

Murphy’s arrest on Friday came after a yearslong investigation into alleged dogfighting across multiple states, including Massachusetts, Maine, New York and Florida, court documents show.

Murphy allegedly belonged to private dogfighting Facebook groups used to share fight results and injuries sustained by fighting dogs, to buy and sell fighting dogs and to exchange information on training and conditioning fighting dogs, among other things, prosecutors said.

According to the indictment, Murphy had numerous items in his Hanson home associated with using dogs for an illegal animal fighting operation, including intravenous infusion equipment; syringes; antibiotics; injectable anabolic steroids; injectable corticosteroids; a skin stapler; forceps; equipment used to train dogs, including a treadmill, a slat mill, a carpet mill, and a flirt pole; dog training and fighting literature; a hanging digital scale used to weigh dogs for matches; written training regimens; break sticks, used to separate fighting dogs; and a breeding stand used to immobilize female dogs during breeding to prevent harm while mating.

Authorities also seized a live rabbit that, according to prosecutors, dogfighters use in conjunction with treadmills to increase a dog’s interest in the training exercise.

According to prosecutors, Murphy’s Facebook accounts contained a photo of a pit bull-type dog with scarring and discolorations on its head and leg consistent with that of dogfighting, a photo of a pit bull-type dog restrained in a breeding stand, and videos that depicted pit bull-type dogs physically tethered to treadmill-like-devices commonly used to physically condition dogs in preparation for a dogfight.

One video allegedly depicted what appears to be live bait placed at the end of the mill to entice the pit bull-type dog to run faster and harder, prosecutors said.

Federal prosecutors also filed a civil forfeiture complaint involving the seized dogs.

According to prosecutors, at both the Hanson and Townsend locations where the dogs were seized, several items commonly associated with an illegal dogfighting operation were found, including training equipment; veterinary supplies; dog fighting literature, DVDs, and/or CD-ROMs; kennels used to house dogs individually; and break sticks, which dogfighters use to force open a dog’s bite onto another dog’s body, specifically at the termination of a fight or while training.

The civil forfeiture complaint also alleges that Murphy communicated with other dogfighters via Facebook where they discussed the results of dogfights, injuries sustained by fighting dogs, as well as breeding dogs, Levy said. An investigation is ongoing.

Anyone who suspects animal fighting crimes in their area is urged to contact local police or the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General complaint hotline at 1-800-424-9121.

The charges of possessing animals for use in an animal fighting venture each provide for a sentence of up to five years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000.

Hanson is a small town in Plymouth County, about 20 miles south of Boston. The town’s population was 10,639 at the 2020 census.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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