ST. ALBANS — What by many accounts was a joke gone very wrong led to the arrest and arraignment of a Romanian immigrant Wednesday.
Radu Chereches, 46, a Romanian immigrant who is now a U.S. citizen from Ridgeland, S.C., pleaded not guilty after he was arrested in St. Albans that morning for disorderly conduct and creating a false public alarm.
According to the police affidavit, around 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, Chereches entered the South Main Street ReMax real estate office with two backpacks, and asked office workers if he could leave them there while he went to the U.S. Passport Agency next door.
In a sworn statement, one of the ReMax office workers wrote that Chereches stated, “I am a terrorist. I am here in St. Albans for a few hours; four to five, or so, and I have to walk around and go to the passport office, so I’d like to leave my bags here so I don’t have to carry them.”
The office workers told Chereches, who also made cryptic statements about the human race and people being doomed, he couldn’t leave his bags in their building.
St. Albans Police Cpl. Paul Talley, Bellows Free Academy, St. Albans’ school resource officer, the officer nearest the scene, had dispatchers order a lockdown of the U.S. Passport Agency. He also said, in the affidavit, that he advised BFA’s administration to enforce a lockdown.
Talley wrote in the affidavit that after leaving BFA, he found Chereches walking on Fairfield Street in front of the Handy auto dealership. Talley said he requested that Chereches drop his backpacks, which he complied to, and detained the suspect.
Chereches was then arrested for creating a false public alarm.
According to Talley’s sworn statement, Chereches explained he jokingly refers to himself as a terrorist, because of his long beard and thick accent.
Before the incident was ruled a false public alarm, precautions were taken by local law enforcement. According to a St. Albans Police Department press release, the area around the U.S. Passport Agency was secured and officers from Homeland Security, Vermont State Police, U.S. Border Patrol and Federal Protective Services responded to the scene. An explosives detection K-9 was brought in and Chereches’ bags were found to only contain personal items.
In court Wednesday afternoon, Chereches’ lawyer, Rory Malone, of the public defenders’ office, questioned the court’s finding of probable cause. He said his client’s statements in the ReMax office were misunderstood and Chereches didn’t pose any real threat to the public. Malone argued that the police affidavit didn’t contain enough evidence to support the charges.
“The facts either exist in the affidavit, or they don’t,” he said. “I think what we’re dealing with is somebody with a very thick accent.”
Malone said Chereches’ accent and long hair and beard had created issues in the past for his client, which led him to making a joke about being a terrorist.
Judge James Crucitti maintained the court’s finding of probable cause, citing that the combination of Chereches’ statements and his request to leave his backpacks in the ReMax office was enough for the hearing to proceed.
After Chereches pleaded not guilty, Franklin County State’s Attorney Jim Hughes said the suspect doesn’t have any ties to Vermont, and brought up his criminal record. According to court documents, Chereches has faced several larceny, shoplifting and disorderly conduct charges in Florida, and several motor vehicle violations in South Carolina.
Hughes asked Crucitti to place several conditions on Chereches’ release, including prohibiting the suspect from possessing weapons.
Crucitti enforced conditions, including prohibiting Chereches from contacting the ReMax office workers, but didn’t accept Hughes’ request about the weapons condition. Crucitti said since the incident was only an alarm, Chereches doesn’t pose serious threats to the public.
“It was clearly a false implication,” Crucitti said.
Crucitti ordered $1,000 cash bail for Chereches, believing that to be an appropriate amount to get the suspect to return to Vermont for further court hearings.
Following the arraignment, Hughes said the state takes any threat very seriously, especially with the Boston Marathon bombings happening less than a year ago. Having never prosecuted a case exactly like this, Hughes said it’s important to respond appropriately when threats of terrorism are made.
“This is a first,” he said. “I think everybody would take this seriously.”
Hughes added that no mental evaluation of Chereches was ordered because responding law enforcement officers said the suspect spoke clearly and seemed to understand what he was doing.
Chereches’ background continues to be investigated, Hughes said.