A local man, who court records described as transient, was ordered held without bail Tuesday after being accused Monday of stealing a man’s bicycle and backpack.
Eric C. Stephens, 53, of Rutland, pleaded not guilty Monday in Rutland criminal court to a felony charge of assault and robbery that caused an injury.
If convicted of the charge, Stephens would face a mandatory minimum term of one year in prison and a maximum term of 20 years in prison.
The charge against Stephens is based on an affidavit written by Officer Jimmy Plakas, of the Rutland City Police Department. Plakas said he was assigned to a robbery case on Monday around 6 p.m.
On Monday, George S. Higgins, 35, reported a man named Eric had assaulted and robbed him, taking his bicycle and backpack, on Union Street earlier in the day.
When Higgins spoke to Plakas, he told the officer he had been riding his bicycle to his home on School Street when he saw Stephens. Higgins claimed he used to buy cocaine from Stephens but said that happened more than two years ago.
According to the affidavit, Stephens called to Higgins and Higgins slowed down to talk to him, but Stephens then grabbed the front bar of the bicycle with his hand.
“(Stephens) stated to Higgins, ‘You stole my bike.’ Higgins replied that he did not know what (Stephens) was talking about. (Stephens) then stated, ‘You know what’s gonna happen now.’ (Stephens) proceeded to punch Higgins in the chest with his left hand, using a closed fist. The punch knocked Higgins off of his bicycle,” Plakas wrote in the affidavit.
Plakas said Higgins showed him where Stephens allegedly hit him, but Plakas didn’t see any visible marks. While Higgins declined medical attention, he said he was having trouble breathing while speaking with Plakas.
Higgins told police that Stephens “ripped” his backpack away from him and said to Higgins, “What else you got?”
Higgins said the backpack contained his cellphone, paperwork from a treatment center, a bus pass and his wallet, in which he was keeping his birth certificate, Social Security card and a Vermont non-driver identification.
Plakas said he believed there was probable cause to cite Stephens for a criminal charge, but police could not initially find Stephens.
Around 10:45 p.m. Monday, Plakas said in the affidavit, members of the Rutland City Police were dispatched to Elm Street for a report of an assault. Dispatchers said they had been told someone had been yelling for help in the area and then a man was seen “lying in the roadway, beaten up.”
When police got to the area, they identified Stephens as the man who had been beaten.
Plakas provided no information in the affidavit about who allegedly assaulted Stephens, whether police believed the alleged assault was related to the earlier incident with Higgins or the nature of Stephens’ injuries. However, Plakas said Stephens was taken to Rutland Regional Medical Center “due to the extent of his injuries.”
Attorney Ron Ferrara, who represented Stephens, mentioned Stephens’ injuries during Tuesday’s arraignment while arguing that Stephens should not be held in jail, in part because Stephens was cited to appear in court and walked in voluntarily rather than being taken into custody Monday and brought to the courtroom by deputies.
“Mr. Stephens did walk in here. He was cited to appear. He was at the emergency room being treated for injuries he sustained when he was jumped. He’s really not going anywhere … fast,” he said.
Ferrara said he could produce witnesses who would dispute Higgins’ version of the alleged assault.
Rutland County Chief Deputy State’s Attorney Ian Sullivan pointed out that Stephens had a pending sentence for a felony charge of driving while under the influence but Judge Thomas Zonay said the sentencing is scheduled for next year.
Zonay said he was considering other charges to which Stephens pleaded guilty but had not been sentenced, which involved violating court orders, when he decided that Stephens should be held without bail.
“It’s not as though this is, if you will, a blank slate that we’re writing on here today. (Stephens) comes before the court when conditions of release has been in place … and he’s admitted he violated six or seven, numerous times, conditions that were designed for public safety,” he said.