New Bedford Police ‘Frustrated’ With Judges Allowing Repeat Offenders Back on Streets
UPDATE (2-24-18): Since this story was originally published, two more of the individuals charged in connection with the unarmed robbery of a man at 149 Tinkham Street have been re-arrested.
A total of three of the eight people arrested in that incident, who were released on personal recognizance and did not have to post bail in order to be released, subsequently were arrested for other crimes following their release.
On February 20, 18-year-old Joshua Luna-Agosto, who was released without having to post bail in connection with the Tinkham Street robbery, was arrested for possessing a stolen vehicle. It was his third arrest in 17 days (he led police on a chase while driving a motorized scooter on city streets on Feb. 3).
At his arraignment Wednesday on the stolen vehicle charges, the district attorney's office requested that Judge Paul Pino revoke his bail based on the Feb. 14 incident, and that he be held without bail. Judge Pino refused that request. He also refused the district attorney's subsequent request that Luna-Agosto be held on $1,000 bail. Judge Pino instead set him free without having to post any bail, to return to court March 30.
Then on February 22, 44-year-old Ruperto Torres was arrested for breaking and entering into a North Front Street residence. He too had been released on recognizance in connection to the Feb. 14 incident at 149 Tinkham Street. Judge Pino again released Torres Thursday without having to post bail after his re-arrest, even though the district attorney's office requested he be held.
In Massachusetts, “if a defendant is charged with another crime while on release on bail or personal recognizance, the court may revoke (cancel) the terms of their release. The court may order the defendant to be held without bail for up to 90 days.”
NEW BEDFORD — New Bedford Police are becoming increasingly frustrated with judges allowing repeat offenders back on the streets, despite having lengthy criminal records.
Frustration is growing, according to police, as three of those repeat criminals have been let out for one crime, committed another shortly thereafter, and then were set free once again.
"From our perspective, as police officers, we get a little frustrated when the men and women of this city work hard and get these people off the streets--and we're talking about violent re-offenders, people that commit crimes against people," New Bedford Police spokesman Lt. Nathaniel Rodriguez said. "We're working hard and putting ourselves at risk to get these people off the streets, and to see them out shortly after and committing more crimes, it's frustrating."
The frustration has been evident in recent months, with police putting out press releases mentioning that criminals who are repeat offenders have been let out on "low bails," and in some cases, no bail at all. The releases have also named the specific judges who have set those bails.
Yet this week, police felt the releases of three specific accused criminals were especially egregious, putting out not-very-subtle releases on Tuesday entitled "Man Released After Lengthy History, Including Murder, Arrested at 149 Tinkham Street," and "Notorious Breaker on the Street After Being Arrested Twice in One Week and Not Having to Post Any Bail."
On February 14, New Bedford Police responded to a report of man being robbed at 149 Tinkham Street, with the investigation leading to the shutdown of the property and the arrest of eight people, including 62-year-old Hector Torres, a man with a lengthy criminal record, including a prison sentence for murder. For his role in Wednesday's incident, Torres was arrested and charged with unarmed robbery, assault and battery, trespassing and possession of Class A and B substances with intent to distribute.
Torres has a long criminal history, including 23 adult arraignments. He has previous convictions for possession of firearms, dealing heroin, burglary and robbery. He was convicted of murder in 1983 and sentenced to 15-20 years in state prison.
Nine days before his most recent arrest, Torres was arrested on February 5 at the same address by narcotics detectives for dealing drugs.
During his February 15 arraignment for the unarmed robbery, the Bristol County District Attorney's Office requested bail be set at $10,000, and his previous bail from his February 5 arrest be revoked. Instead, Judge Paul Pino set his bail at just $1,000. Torres posted bail and is currently out on the streets of New Bedford, police said.
Also arrested as part of that unarmed robbery was 23-year-old Sky-Lynn Ellis of New Bedford. She was charged with unarmed robbery, trespassing and assault and battery.
Ellis was released from court on February 14 by Judge Pino without having to post any bail. The next day, she was arrested again on prostitution-related charges, after she propositioned an undercover officer for sex for a fee. She returned to court that afternoon and at her arraignment in front of Judge Robert Ovoian, she was again released without bail.
"We gear up every day, and it's a tough job, but we go out there and do this job, and we don't see sometimes, unfortunately, the reward of doing good police work and getting these people off the streets," Lt. Rodriguez said.
Mayor Jon Mitchell, a former U.S. prosecutor, had no qualms about putting the blame directly on the judges.
“The continued practice of district court judges releasing violent defendants on limited bail is deeply troubling,” said Mayor Mitchell. “It has compromised the safety of our city, negated the hard work of our police officers, and undermined the public’s respect for the state judicial system. It underscores the need for the appointment of judges who have more than a passing connection to Greater New Bedford, and for heightened media scrutiny of district court proceedings. The doors of the system must be thrown open to the daylight.”
Another recent example was the two arrests of 41-year-old Douglas Boice, a homeless man living in New Bedford. Boice has an extensive criminal history, which includes 62 adult arraignments with 50 convictions--including possession of a firearm, breaking and entering, larceny from a person, assault and battery and dealing drugs.
On February 9, Boice was arrested for breaking into the Moby Dick Brewing Company on Union Street and stealing two bottles of alcohol. He was found a short time later with the stolen bottles of alcohol in his possession, and charged with breaking and entering into a building in the nighttime for a felony, among other charges. He was arraigned in New Bedford Third District Court, and released by Judge Pino without having to post any money for bail.
Five days later, on February 14, Boice was arrested again, this time for his role in an armed robbery in the 700-block of Purchase Street, robbing a man of his cash. At his arraignment, Boice once again went before Judge Pino and was released without having to post any money for bail.
"We get it, you're not going to arrest everyone. We understand that," Lt. Rodriguez said. "But when people are let out, and they commit especially more violent acts, that's where it can become a problem. It's just frustration on our end, as law enforcement officers."
Despite the challenges of seeing criminals released right back on to the street and committing more crimes, Lt. Rodriguez said it has not affected morale within the department.
"No, definitely not," he said. "We know we have a job to do, and we go out and do it. It's the old cliche, 'to protect and serve,' but that's what we do. It's a tough job and they do it, regardless of things that are out of their control. They go out there and perform, and their job is to take (criminals) off the street as best they can."