HAVERHILL — The evidence against two former Highway Department workers who were charged last year with possession of a single oxycodone pill was ordered suppressed by a judge during a hearing Wednesday in Haverhill District Court.
On Aug. 30 of last year, Haverhill police arrested Highway Department workers Steven Allen and Erik Frasca, as well as former city worker Kevin Moriarty, after what police said was a “hand-to-hand drug transaction” outside City Hall, according to a police report.
The state’s evidence in the case consisted of a single 30 mg oxycodone pill found in a city truck Frasca and Allen were traveling in and six oxycodone pills found with Moriarty, the police report said.
Allen was immediately fired from his job. Frasca later resigned.
Frasca’s defense lawyer, William Early, and Allen’s defense lawyer, Stephen Colella, both filed motions on Wednesday with Judge Patricia Dowling to suppress the evidence in the case, arguing police had no probable cause to search or arrest their clients, according to documents on file at the court.
Dowling granted their motions.
Assistant District Attorney Stephen LaMonica requested a status hearing so that the commonwealth has time to review the judge’s decision for appeal, according to Carrie Kimball, spokeswoman for the Essex County district attorney.
The judge scheduled a status hearing for June 26.
Allen’s defense lawyer, Stephen Colella, told The Eagle-Tribune that depending on whether the state decides to appeal the judge’s decision, he plans to enter a motion to dismiss the case. Frasca’s lawyer, Early, said he plans to do the same.
“The case law is well settled that based on the evidence presented by the government, they (police) did not have sufficient probable cause to justify the stop of the motor vehicle and subsequent arrest of the occupants,” Colella said.
Colella said he based his motion to suppress on a video recording of what police indicated was a drug transaction. Colella said the video did not convince the judge as to what police saw that led to the stop, search and seizure of evidence.
“Since no other evidence was seized, other that what came form this search, which the judge deemed inappropriate, the case should be dismissed,” Colella said. “I’m obviously thrilled the judge agreed with my interpretation of the evidence and saw it differently than the police saw it.”
Police began following Frasca, Allen and Moriarty after receiving an anonymous tip through the mayor’s office that Moriarty, who left the Highway Department on good terms in 2003, was selling drugs to city employees, according to a police report.
City officials said the police investigation uncovered drug use by Frasca and Allen, violations of sick-leave policies, and deficiencies in how workers are trained and managed. The police investigation found no further drug use in the department beyond that of the former employees, city officials said.
After receiving the anonymous tip about drug use by Highway Department workers, Mayor James Fiorentini ordered an investigation into the department. He hired a private firm to study and make recommendations for improving the department. That study is not yet complete.
According to court officials, on April 18, Moriarty admitted to sufficient facts on the charges of distributing a Class B drug and possession of a Class B drug, in connection to his arrest last August, and was ordered to serve one year probation and pay a $65 a month probation fee.
He was also ordered to remain drug- and alcohol-free and submit to random screenings. The charge of conspiracy to violate drug laws was dismissed while the charge of possession of a Class B drug to distribute was amended to a reduced charge of possession of a Class B drug.
Court officials said that on May 1, Judge Stephen Abany ordered Moriarty held without bail after finding probable cause that he violated the terms of his probation by failing a drug test. Moriarty tested positive for fentanyl and opiates, officials said, and was ordered to attend a 28-day detox program.
A probation violation hearing, via video conference, is scheduled for June 5, court officials said.
When asked if Allen plans to seek to return to his city job, Colella said he had not spoken to Allen about that and does not know what he plans to do.
Early said his client, Frasca, who worked for 19 years with the Highway Department, is exploring his options, based on the decision of the court.
“He will have to reach out to the union representative – and we don’t know if he can return to his city job,” Early said.
When asked to respond to the possibility that the case against Frasca and Allen could be dismissed and if that could result in either of them returning to their jobs, Fiorentini said: “The process of hiring, firing and disciplining public employees is totally different and independent from the criminal process.”
While investigating the accusations, police say they saw Moriarty park his pickup truck in a handicap spot in a side lot at City Hall, then watched as he entered and exited City Hall several times before meeting Allen near Moriarty’s truck.
The men made an exchange before Allen got into Frasca’s city-owned truck, which was parked on Main Street in a southbound direction, the police report said.
Police followed the truck to a construction site on South Elm Street, where they questioned the men. According to court documents, police found a single 30 mg oxycodone pill split in half resting on the arm rest between the driver’s and passenger’s seats of the truck. They also found a cut off orange straw in Frasca’s pocket, court documents said.
Allen told police he also had Suboxone in his pocket. Police found a green plastic vial with an orange pill, the report said. Allen told police he had a prescription for Suboxone, but that he didn’t have it with him.
While questioning Moriarty, who police had followed onto Middlesex Street in Bradford, police found an additional six oxycodone pills that matched the one found with Allen and Frasca, according to the report. The officers seized $83 in cash from Moriarty, who allegedly told the officers he did not sell Allen the pill, but gave it to him “as a friend.” Moriarty told police that Allen did give him $23 cash, which Allen owed to him.
Moriarty also told police that he’d met with Allen and Frasca in the past and gave them “contraband” while they were working for the city.
Frasca denied any involvement in receiving a pill from Moriarty, according to the police report.