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Man faces multiple charges after van stop

By Rich Azzopardi
Berkshire Eagle Staff

PITTSFIELD -- A West Street man was released on bail yesterday after his arraignment on allegations that he tried to flee from police in his minivan.
Rajeam Layer Phillips, 27, of the Riverview Homes apartments, pleaded not guilty in Central Berkshire District Court to charges of operating a motor vehicle without a license, operating a motor vehicle to endanger, failure to stop for a police officer, resisting arrest, speeding and possession of marijuana.

Judge Paul M. Vrabel set bail at $500 cash or $5,000 surety. The cash amount was posted within an hour.

Phillips was behind the wheel of a 1997 Pontiac minivan that was stopped Monday night after Pittsfield Police Officer Matthew Hill spotted the vehicle speeding as it left the apartment complex, fishtail, then nearly strike a car parked in front of 44 South John St., court documents stated.

According to a report filed by Hill, the officer discovered that Phillips' driving privileges in the state were suspended. When he and Officer Gary Herland went to confront the defendant with that information, Phillips denied knowledge of the suspension, police said.

He then allegedly started his car and reached for the gear shift.

Hill said he reached to grab the vehicle's keys, prompting a struggle between him and Phillips as the van started to move forward.

The officer pulled himself inside the vehicle and the two fought some more, before Phillips tried to jump out the passenger side window, documents stated.

He was halfway out of the moving vehicle when Hill grabbed him.


"I was very concerned that he could fall under the moving vehicle and be hurt," the officer said.

The vehicle eventually came to a stop when it became lodged in a snowbank. Phillips allegedly continued to struggle and kicked at police in an effort to escape.

He continued to resist efforts to be arrested even after he was pepper-sprayed, and later struck by a baton several times on his leg, police said.

Phillips was eventually handcuffed and transported to the police station.

A plastic bag containing what appeared to be marijuana was later found on the ground by the driver's side of the minivan, authorities said.

Phillips, who walked with a slight limp during his court appearance, maintains that was not trying to flee, said defense attorney Thomas J. Donohue Jr.

The lawyer said his client started the car in order to roll down the van's power windows, which were only open a crack when police first stopped him. Donohue said it was then that Phillips was pepper-sprayed and started to flail his limbs.

Assistant District Attorney Kelly Mulcahy Kemp requested that Philips be held on bail. She said Phillips has a criminal record in Massachusetts, New York and Virginia and several aliases that cause prosecutors "grave concerns" about whether he will show for future court appearances.

Donohue argued that Phillips, a 10-year Berkshire County resident, should be released on personal recognizance, stating that the one default on his record is a decade old.

Phillips also claims to have never been to Virginia, leading him to believe that a relative who lives down there is using his name, Donohue said.
 
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