PITTSFIELD — It wasn’t enough that one man helps care for his bedridden grandmother. That another was willing to wear a tracking device. Or that a third just had come to party with a cousin.
Judge Jennifer Tyne declined Friday to release three men linked to an alleged heroin trafficking ring after listening to arguments at a dangerousness hearing. Tyne said the quantity of heroin seized late Tuesday in the parking lot of the Best Western on West Housatonic Street — 13,500 bags — moved her to order the men held for at least 120 days.
“It poses a significant danger to the community,” Tyne said of the drug, siding with arguments presented in Central Berkshire District Court by Kyle Christensen, an assistant district attorney.
The order comes as prosecutors move to present evidence to a grand jury, a process that Christensen acknowledged could be delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Given that criminal trials have been postponed, defense attorneys argued that holding the men without the right to bail is unfair and subjects them to extended confinement.
The three defendants ordered held are Raekwan Jackson, 24, of Springfield; Shawn Sanders, 27, of Dorchester; and Bertram Oram, 23, of Springfield. The orders run at least through Feb. 18, 2021. They are in custody of the Sheriff’s Office.
Sanders and Oram were arraigned Wednesday on charges of trafficking in heroin of 200 grams or more. Jackson faces that same charge, along with three counts of possession of a firearm without a license to carry, three counts of possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony and three counts of improper storage of a firearm.
Christensen said the task force that made the arrests had found several weapons in Jackson’s home in Springfield. He also faces four counts of possession of a large-capacity feeding device, possession of ammunition without a firearms identification card and of being an armed career felon, according to the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office.
The case of a fourth defendant, Ka’refi Hillery, 25, of Woonsocket, R.I., who also faces trafficking charges, was postponed at the request of his attorney.
Attorneys for the three men tried, without success, to have their clients released either on personal recognizance or under restrictions including GPS monitoring or other conditions.
Raymond Jacoub, representing Oram, presented live testimony by videoconference from the man’s mother and older sister. They said Oram helps feed his grandmother, who is disabled by a stroke, and helps around the family’s Springfield home. The defendant’s mother, Yolanda Murphy Oram, testified that her son is respectful and follows rules.
But, when asked by Christensen whether she knew where he was on several nights in question, she said no.
“I don’t know where I was Sept. 22,” Murphy Oram said.
Jacoub argued that state law requires defendants to be placed under the least-restrictive conditions of release deemed proper. He said Oram had not been linked to the weapons found in Jackson’s home or to have threatened anyone.
Jackson’s attorney, Clark Matthews, argued that his client should be released and that the prosecution had not connected the weapons found in his home with the case that the task force built, in part through use of confidential informants, of heroin trafficking.
“It seems like a stretch, obviously,” Matthews said.
And given the uncertainty of when the case could come to trial, Matthews said release that requires use of a tracking device would be appropriate.
“We have no idea when we can possibly get a trial,” he said.
But, the amounts of drugs seized late Tuesday, which Christensen termed “extraordinary,” appeared to tip the scales. “Heroin in this large quantity poses dangers to the community,” he told Tyne.
He also noted that one of the weapons found in Jackson’s home did not carry a serial number.
“It’s something that’s especially concerning to the commonwealth,” the prosecutor said.
Christensen provided Tyne with a supplemental report detailing current overdose cases, arguing that the flow of opioid drugs into the region, in itself, poses a threat to public good and represents a danger. That extends, he said, to crimes committed by addicts in support of drug habits.
Sanders, the 27-year-old from Dorchester, had been in the wrong place at the wrong time, his attorney, Thomas Donahue, told Tyne. Christensen confirmed that investigators had not expected to find Sanders at the hotel. Also, he had not been the subject of a search warrant, as others in the case were.
“Was he a target of the ongoing investigation?” Tyne asked.
“I don’t think his involvement rose to the same level,” Christensen said. Nonetheless, Sanders was ordered held.
Donahue told the court that Sanders had come to visit with Hillery, his cousin, and to have fun and to meet women. The attorney said Sanders fell asleep in the car after drinking Tuesday.
“The next thing he knew he was in the parking lot at the Best Western surrounded by police,” Donahue said. “He tells me he had no idea there were drugs in the car and had never been in Pittsfield his entire life.”
The arrests Tuesday were conducted by the Berkshire County Law Enforcement Task Force, in connection with state and Pittsfield Police and the county Sheriff’s Office. According to the District Attorney’s Office, the arrests followed months of investigation that involved state police in Hampden County.
Other law enforcement agencies that participated were the North Adams and Springfield police, the Hampden County Narcotics Task Force, the FBI’s Western Mass Gang Task Force and the Attorney General’s Office.
Along with the heroin and weapons, authorities say they seized about $8,000 in cash. Christensen said the task force had established that the men used rental cars to move heroin. A vehicle carrying Jackson had been under surveillance while traveling west along the Massachusetts Turnpike to Exit 2 and then north to Pittsfield just before 8 p.m., the prosecutor said.
After police approached that vehicle, a second one arrived at the hotel. Three men got out and walked from that second vehicle, Christensen said. Police searched it and found the bags of heroin, he said.