NEWBURYPORT — Judge Peter Doyle yesterday refused to overturn another justice's decision to keep an East Kingston police officer and his childhood friend in jail for at least another three weeks without bail while they await trial on felony aggravated assault and battery charges.
At a pretrial hearing at Newburyport District Court, attorneys for Chad Larson, 29, of 53 Pond St., Newton, N.H., and Seth Sanford, 30, originally of 2 Ridgefield Road, Merrimac, but now living in Miami, Fla., tried to persuade Doyle not only to reduce the charges against the men, but also reverse Judge Allen Swan's July 21 ruling to keep the men in jail without bail because of the threat they pose to the public.
Larson, a full-time police officer in East Kingston, N.H., and part-time and reserve officer in Merrimac and Newburyport, respectively, and Sanford, a high-school teacher in Florida's Dade County, are both charged with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon (their shod feet) and aggravated assault and battery. The charges stem from a fight on July 18 that left the victim, Christopher MacRae, 23, of Haverhill lying unconscious at the Salisbury Beach Municipal Parking Lot.
When police found MacRae injured in a pool of his own blood around 11 p.m., he was airlifted to a Boston hospital.
At yesterday's hearing, Sanford's attorney, John Valerio, and Larson's attorney, Christopher Holland, told Doyle the reality of what happened on July 18 does not rise to the level of aggravated assault and battery. Because of the seriousness of that felony charge, the defendants would be tried in Superior Court and would be removed from the jurisdiction of Newburyport District Court.
The defendants' attorneys said the victim is now out of the hospital without lasting effects from his injuries due to the beating, in spite of the cast MacRae wears on his hand — which they claimed was caused when the victim hit Sanford.
In addition, Valerio said, Sanford was not wearing sneakers when he was kicking MacRae as he lay on the ground, but was wearing "rubber flip-flops." Sanford was, however, wearing sneakers when police arrested him in Merrimac after he and Larson fled Salisbury after the fight. Police also said they found fresh blood on the defendants' clothes, hands and vehicle when arrested.
"I agree on first appearance this was an extremely serious offense," Valerio told Doyle. "But that clearly is not the case. This is an assault and battery case, and my client will claim self-defense. (Sanford) is an exceptional young man. He served his country as a United States Marine. He's a teacher."
Holland agreed with Valerio's arguments that the charges should be dropped to assault and battery, and that both men should be allowed out on bail. Holland said not only does his client present no danger to the community, but as a police officer protects the community.
"There has been a change of circumstances," Holland said. "There is no significant harm to the victim. My client is agreeable to any (bail) conditions the court would set."
However, Assistant District Attorney Maura Bailey told Doyle that although she may consider a reduction of charges from aggravated assault and battery to straight assault and battery in the future if evidence warrants the change, presently the original charges stand.
As for changing the result of the dangerousness hearing, when Judge Allen Swan ordered both men to jail without bail because of the threat they pose to the victim and the community, Doyle said he had no intention of reversing Swan's ruling. Doyle said Valerio and Holland can file a motion and argue it before Swan.
The defendants and their attorneys will be back in court to do that on Sept. 9.
According to the Salisbury police report available in the court documents, local officers found MacRae lying unconscious with a serious head injury and a pool of blood surrounding his head.
One witness was able to describe the beating MacRae sustained, the two men involved in the fight, their vehicle and plate number, telling police they beat MacRae until he fell to the ground and continued kicking him in the head — "like a football" — even after he lay unconscious.
At the dangerousness hearing on July 21, Bailey said that Larson and Sanford "basically left Mr. MacRae for dead," and the "sheer brutality" of the beating warranted the defendants remain in jail.
Unless Swan reverses his dangerousness hearing ruling, Larson and Sanford may remain in jail until their trial, but no longer than 90 days from the ruling date on July 21.