SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

March 13, 2014

Discovery of rifle, pot leads to charges

Defense says suspect has prescription for medical marijuana

BY JULIE MANGANIS
STAFF WRITER

---- — BEVERLY — As a court clerk read the charges against him yesterday, including illegal possession of a firearm with a defaced serial number, Roberto Torres, 21, tilted his head back, smiled and appeared to roll his eyes.

During his arraignment in Salem District Court, the former Beverly man, who told police he’s homeless and his lawyer that he’s living with an aunt in Lynn, pleaded not guilty to the firearms charge and charges of possessing a firearm during the commission of a crime, possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and threats to commit a crime.

But Beverly police say they caught him red-handed, while they were conducting surveillance near the Beverly commuter rail station and Park Street Tuesday evening. Torres, who has a record dating back into his teens, was carrying a large blue bag that contained a .22 caliber Winchester rifle when he got off of a train, police said. He does not have a license to own or carry a firearm.

He is now being held on $10,000 bail, both on the gun charges and on an earlier threats case, in which he allegedly tried to reconcile with a girlfriend after getting out of jail last December, only to learn that she’d met someone new. Torres allegedly told the woman that if he saw her with her new boyfriend, he would “open fire.”

Torres, who has other pending cases and is also on probation, was spotted by three Beverly detectives, Sgt. David Faustino and Patrolmen Dana Nicholson and Darlene Prinz, as they were watching for suspected drug activity near the train station, an investigation triggered by numerous complaints during the past year.

The detectives saw him walk up to a man who had been waiting in the area and then saw the two sit down on a bench outside the Beverly Depot restaurant and appear to exchange something for cash, prosecutor Michael Varone told Judge Michael Lauranzano.

The officers moved in, and the man who had been sitting with Torres took off, running down the railroad tracks, police said.

Torres, meanwhile, “seemed surprised” to see the officers, Varone told the judge.

The officers did a safety sweep and felt the gun in the bag.

At first, Torres told police that the other man had just tried to sell him a gun, police said. But officers pointed out that they had seen him get off the train with the bag.

“OK,” Torres allegedly responded.

His attorney, Daniel Werner, said yesterday that his response was not an acknowledgement that he had carried the gun off the train, only that the officers had made that statement.

Police also reported finding half an ounce of marijuana packaged in smaller bags, presumably for distribution.

They also took him into custody on a series of old warrants, including the warrant for the December threats case and two other warrants.

Varone, who had urged $25,000 bail for Torres, suggested that the timing of his arrival in Beverly with a gun was troubling, coming just three months after he allegedly threatened his former girlfriend.

Werner argued for $500 bail, saying that’s all his client, who was deemed indigent, could afford to post.

Werner argued that Torres, but for one default, “always shows up” for court, and that when police arrived at the scene Tuesday night, “Mr. Torres did not flee. ... He talked to them.”

The public defender also questioned the basis for police to search the bag in the first place. “He wasn’t holding it,” Werner said.

As for the marijuana, Werner said Torres has a prescription for medical marijuana for “severe back pain.”

In addition to the $10,000 total bail set by the judge in the two newest cases, Torres will be held on the warrants for his earlier cases. He’s due back in court April 9.

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.