Attorney challenges police search in Pittsfield drug bust


PITTSFIELD -- The drug case against a city man was challenged on Friday as a defense attorney moved to throw out evidence collected by the Berkshire Drug Task Force in a January heroin bust.

During a hearing in Central Berkshire District Court, attorney Ryan Smith questioned two police officers who were involved in the arrest, alleging that the search of his client was unlawful.

Paul Austin, 34, of Pittsfield, was arrested on Jan. 31 along with Dante Spratling, 29, of Pittsfield, while the two were walking on North Street.

Police had obtained a warrant to search Spratling's residence on Orchard Street, from which he was allegedly dealing drugs.

Police were following Spratling in an unmarked vehicle as he walked with Austin on North Street, when they decided to stop the two at around 10 a.m., Pittsfield Police Officer John Mazzeo testified.

After getting out of the vehicle with their badges showing, they stopped both men on the sidewalk. Spratling allegedly threw 63 bags of heroin to the ground, according to the police report. Austin was handcuffed and patted down by another officer, Investigator John Soules.

Soules testified that when he patted Austin's jacket, he felt a hard object. Four bags of heroin allegedly fell from the jacket.

Spratling was charged with drug possession with intent to distribute on the case, while Austin was charged with drug possession.

Smith charged that the arrest and search of Austin was unlawful as he had not been seen making a transaction with Spratling. Both officers testified that they didn't see the two make an exchange.

Smith also said that the warrant didn't authorize the search of anybody but Spratling. In addition, Smith said the search occurred on a public street about four blocks from the Orchard Street residence where the search warrant was issued for.

He asked Soules if he had seen any weapons on Austin that would cause him to believe he was about to commit a crime or be in fear of his safety, which Soules said he did not. Smith also said that Austin didn't try to run from police.

Berkshire Assistant District Attorney Robert Royce said that Spratling was a known drug dealer who was known to do drug exchanges in the area, which justified the search of Austin.

Smith said the handcuffing and detention of Austin was a "level of intrusion on his freedom."

Judge Fredric Rutberg asked Royce if it was a crime to be seen in the presence of a drug dealer, stressing that he knew of no such law.

"They didn't see any drug transaction," Rutberg said. "They watched him for two blocks."

Rutberg gave Royce two weeks to file a legal memorandum that could support the cause for the search.

"I'm troubled by this," Rutberg said.

To reach Nathan Mayberg:
or (413) 496-6243


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