Attorney Francis T. Obrien Jr., Head of the Criminal Practice at Parker Scheer LLP, was recently featured in an in The Salem Evening News.
Lawyer questions search in Beverly drug bust
By Paul Leighton and Julie Manganis Staff writers
BEVERLY -- Beverly police drug detectives found more than $9,000 worth of cocaine and heroin inside a Lexus on Wednesday evening and arrested the driver on trafficking charges.
But after suspect Israel Colon's lawyer raised questions about whether police, without a warrant, had the right to search the Lexus as extensively as they did -- using a trained drug-sniffing dog and ripping open a secret compartment in the SUV -- a Salem District Court judge set bail at just a fraction of the amount requested by prosecutors.
Colon, 24, who police say lives in Lawrence, pleaded not guilty during his arraignment yesterday to charges of cocaine and heroin trafficking and violating the city's knife ordinance.
Prosecutor Michelle DeCourcey sought a $500,000 cash bail. Judge Richard Mori set bail at just $10,000.
DeCourcey described how Beverly Detectives Sgt. Michael Cassola and Thomas Nolan, and Wenham police Detective Sgt. Mark Fraser were conducting surveillance on Cabot Street near the One Stop Market late Wednesday afternoon.
They saw two men known to them as drug users, then watched as they went back to the apartment of one of the men on Elliott Street, a short distance away, DeCourcey said.
Colon showed up a short time later and the detectives recognized him from an investigation a year and a half ago, DeCourcey told the judge.
The three went inside the apartment, and then Colon left, watched by the detectives as he went to the Lexus, which was parked on Chase Street.
Cassola noticed that the windows of the Lexus were illegally tinted and approached Colon, who said the SUV belongs to someone else.
Cassola said he saw a folding knife, opened up, on the back seat within reach of the driver's seat and arrested Colon on a charge of violating the city's knife ordinance, DeCourcey told the judge.
Then, police had the SUV towed because the person that Colon identified as the owner has no license.
DeCourcey said the officers noticed a strong odor of air fresheners -- often used to conceal the odor of drugs -- and spotted what appeared to be wires wrapped with electrical tape dangling from under a panel in the car.
Eventually, with the help of the drug dog Blitz, police found a total of 58 grams of cocaine (about 2 ounces) and 24 grams of heroin, packaged in small bags and hidden inside mouthwash bottles, which were then hidden inside a secret compartment. They also found $1,000 in cash, and another $341 on Colon.
Detectives also found "several newspaper clippings" on recent drug arrests, police said.
The detectives believe the packaging method used is an indication that Colon is part of drug ring they refer to as the "Burgos-Ortiz gang."
Last March, police arrested Juan Burgos, 24, of Lawrence on drug-trafficking charges in Beverly Farms, where he claimed he'd gone for pizza.
Defense lawyer Frank O'Brien argued that the search went well beyond the scope of anything police were legally entitled to do without a warrant -- and called DeCourcey's request for bail "patently absurd."
O'Brien told the judge that "by sheer coincidence" he also represents Burgos, who was released on $15,000 bail following his indictment.
Beyond that, O'Brien said, the search described by DeCourcey was "a patently illegal search."
Police are allowed to conduct searches of vehicles without a warrant under specific circumstances. They can look for evidence related to the offense for which someone is arrested, in this case a knife ordinance violation. They can also conduct what are known as "inventory" searches, intended to document the contents of a vehicle being towed in case of a future loss claim.
"This case is going nowhere," O'Brien argued, "because it was an illegal search."
Lawyer Questions search in Beverly Drug Bust.