SALEM — "I wanted to get into the field of law enforcement," Darryl Craig Hines told a jury Tuesday. 

But he didn't want to become a police officer. 

Police officers are required to take an exam and attend a police academy in nearly every community in Massachusetts. Some cities and towns also conduct intensive background checks and psychological evaluations of candidates. 

But Hines, whose background was in financial services and tax preparation, did none of those things. 

Instead, he set up a business in downtown Salem, calling it "Boston Federal Constables." The name was later changed to Massachusetts Constable's Office. 

It's a situation that illustrates a conflict between outdated state statutes, dating to the 19th century, when "constables" and "police officers" were interchangeable terms, and more recent state laws concerning gun safety. 

In 2017, most public safety officials and elected officials consider constables little more than process servers, delivering civil court documents such as divorce papers. 

As a result, there is little vetting of candidates, who simply apply for the position, as Hines did in Salem and eight other communities. If they can show that they are bonded, they can work as a constable. 

City officials in Salem are looking to change that and last spring discussed updating the procedure. 

Rep. Dan Cahill also filed legislation aiming to address some of the conflicts in the law, in the wake of the shooting of two Boston police officers by a Boston constable who, it later turned out, was inadequately vetted. 

But Hines has a different view. On Tuesday, he testified that he believes he has more authority than police officers because he is also able to serve civil process, something a police officer cannot do.

And, he said, that gave him the right to purchase the guns and, in the case of one of his constables, give it to an underage person. He says he believes a "plain reading" of various state laws gives him that authority. 

State police and Essex County prosecutors filed charges against Hines last year, disagreeing with his interpretation of the law.  They say the gun laws are clear — and that Hines violated them. 

But on Tuesday, a Salem District Court jury sided with Hines — even after he acknowledged that there is some dispute to his interpretation of the role of constable and his admission to investigators last year that "I messed up," when asked about how he acquired the guns.

He says the uncertainty over the role of constables isn't his fault, however.

"The state needs to fix it," Hines testified under cross examination by prosecutor Lincoln Rose. "That's their problem." 

In order to become "a law enforcement officer," as he calls himself, two years ago, Hines simply bought uniforms and badges and several Ford Crown Victoria sedans, the same type used as police cruisers. He had two of them painted with his own shield-shaped logo and stripes similar to a police car, and installed blue lights on them. 

He hired several men as constables to work underneath him. Among them were a current Peabody police officer, Richard Heath, and Max Bressi of Burlington, who was 19 at the time.

Hines did later enroll in a constable training program, but left before completing it, he acknowledged Tuesday. 

Then, Hines tried to buy Glock pistols, a type of handgun legally used only by law enforcement officers. 

After being turned down by Massachusetts and New Hampshire dealers, Hines wrote to a Vermont dealer, and was able to order five Glocks, which were shipped to his Derby Square office. 

His request was on the the letterhead of his business and he indicated that the high-capacity Glocks would be for "official duty." He kept one for himself and gave three others to his constables — including the then-19-year-old Bressi.  The fifth gun was kept in his office.

But state law prevents anyone under the age of 21 from being issued a license to carry a pistol. 

And Hines never registered the guns with the state, as required. Investigators believe that was because he knew that he wasn't legally authorized to have those guns. 

As a result, Salem and Massachusetts state police questioned him in April, 2016, confiscated the guns and filed charges. 

Hines' defense: Bressi was a "law enforcement officer" who was only supposed to use the gun while on duty. He printed up a homemade "identification card" that cited Hines' own interpretation of two state statutes, one of them dealing only with driving offenses and the other with long guns like rifles, to give to Bressi. 

And, he testified, he did not believe he had to register the guns with the Department of Public Safety because their sale was already reported by the Vermont dealer to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. 

After more than four hours of deliberation, a Salem District Court jury found him not guilty of the six charges. 

Rose, in his closing argument, called the homemade card "a worthless piece of paper," and argued that Hines was acting "as a king unto himself." 

Hines' attorney, Joseph Simons, meanwhile, suggested that no one told him that what he was doing would be considered illegal, only inadvisable for liability purposes. 

And his client was appointed as a constable in nine cities and towns on the North Shore and Merrimack Valley, giving him the authority to work there. 

After the verdict, Simons said he and his client "are pleased that justice was served and he can go home to his family." 

Hines indicated that he plans to continue operating his constable business. 

But at least for now, he'll be doing so without the Glocks, which were turned back over to police at the end of the trial.

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

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