MANCHESTER — Robert Hitchcock Simpson thought he saw the last of New Hampshire when he moved to Gloucester, Mass., six years ago.
He had been arrested for marijuana possession, paid a fine and wanted to start over.
But New Hampshire resurfaced like a bad nightmare on June 4. That’s when the 29-year-old restaurant cook started a two-week stint in jail, most of that in Massachusetts, on criminal charges that date back more than six years and allege he sold small amounts of marijuana to an undercover Nashua police officer.
“I was sitting in jail for this in a state where it’s legal,” Simpson said last Wednesday, the day he walked out of Hillsborough County’s Valley Street jail in Manchester. “There’s way more drugs up here that you should be worried about than me and my weed.”
During those two weeks, he walked by the cell where his brother had committed suicide in 2012. He came close to losing his job of three years, he said.
Simpson attributes his mother’s frantic intervention in getting him to Valley Street jail last Monday. Two days later, a judge in Hillsborough County Superior Court in Nashua quickly released Simpson on his own recognizance.
According to court records, Hillsborough County prosecutors obtained an indictment against Simpson in August 2017. The indictment alleged he sold marijuana to undercover Nashua police more than four years earlier, in February and March 2013.
“It’s not typically how it goes,” said Nashua police Lt. Brian Kenney, who runs the Nashua police narcotics investigation. Someone shouldn’t have to sit in Essex County jail for two weeks waiting to get to New Hampshire, he said.
Kenney said he remembers the case. Police didn’t arrest Simpson after the alleged marijuana sales. Rather, they issued a warrant for Simpson, but they couldn’t find him (by then he had moved to Gloucester). Four years later, police discovered the Simpson warrant when they inventoried their old cases. They sent the case to the county attorney for indictment.
A grand jury indicted him on three marijuana sales charges. According to the New Hampshire court system, a court clerk will mail an indictment to a defendant through regular mail and not seek a return receipt. If the defendant does not show up for an arraignment, a warrant is issued.
That’s what happened to Simpson, who found about it when he went to Gloucester police on June 4 to clear up a summons for shoplifting. (He said police ticketed him after a cashier failed to ring up a case of water at the bottom of his grocery cart.)
Gloucester police ran his name through the system, and the New Hampshire warrant popped up. He said police assured him it would be cleared up quickly. Either the judge would release him, or New Hampshire would refuse to come get him, or New Hampshire would get him.
But none of the above took place, and he was stuck in the Essex County jail.
Simpson said he was given a TB shot and placed in a gang block. At one point, he was jailed close to the cell where his brother, Christopher Tome, committed suicide in 2012. That unnerved his mother, who lives in Washington, N.H.
“I’m losing my mind ... cannot stop thinking or grieving and made lots of calls and always get the run-around,” his mother, Chrisee Simpson wrote a reporter last week. “He would have come up if he was even notified of this, but he wasn’t.”
Hillsborough County Attorney Michael Conlon confirmed he spoke to Simpson’s mother 10 days into his incarceration. Sheriff deputies assured him he would be brought to New Hampshire, Conlon said.
Kenney said that once Simpson was indicted his apprehension was out of his hands and up to the Hillsborough County sheriff. Telephone calls to the Hillsborough County Sheriff deputy in charge of criminal warrants were not returned Friday.
In jail, Simpson said he had to take epilepsy medication — Keppra — which he does not take on the outside because he uses marijuana to treat his epilepsy.
He said he smokes about an eighth ounce of marijuana a week, generally once a day to treat his epilepsy. He said he buys it on the street because the cost in Massachusetts marijuana shops or medical dispensaries — about $80 a quarter ounce — is far more than it is on the street.
He acknowledges he did sell marijuana when he lived on Palm Street in Nashua. He said he sold small amounts but only to friends or people his friends vouched for.
“I smoked for free is basically what I did,” he said. He said he never sold other drugs and he stopped selling when he moved to Massachusetts.
Meanwhile, Kenney stressed that even though possession of small amounts of marijuana has been decriminalized in New Hampshire, sale remains illegal. And police do investigate marijuana sales and make arrests
“I’ll be honest with you, marijuana is so plentiful we kind of have to triage it. It’s on a case-by-case basis,” he said.
Police would go after a marijuana dealer if he were selling other drugs, or has a child in his home, or if his product is getting into the hands of children.
He thinks Simpson should still be prosecuted.
“We’re of the opinion he should face the music as it was in 2013,” Kenney said.
Meanwhile, Simpson said an assistant county attorney had made a plea bargain on the date he appeared in Hillsborough County Superior Court in Nashua.
The prosecutor offered to drop the sale charges — which are felonies — if he would plead guilty to a misdemeanor-level possession charge. He refused.
“I’m not taking any deal for a misdemeanor,” he said. “Why indict me four years later. It baffles me.”