LAWRENCE — An 11-year-old Lawrence boy who called police this week when he found what appeared to be drugs in his father’s bag had previously called the Department of Children and Families for help with his father a year earlier, according to a police report.
The boy’s father, identified as 40-year-old Yamil Mercado, was arraigned Friday in Lawrence District Court on charges of reckless endangerment of a child and trafficking in more than 200 grams of illegal drugs.
After a plea of not guilty was entered, he was ordered held without bail pending a dangerousness hearing sought by Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett’s office. Mercado could be held without bail for 90 days if a judge rules he poses a threat to the public.
Several women in the courtroom wept when they saw Mercado, who appeared behind protective glass.
Brendan Kelley, a public defender assigned to represent Mercado, said at the brief hearing that Mercado has a minor criminal record. He said Mercado had pleaded guilty to driving with a suspended license, but had 2013 drug possession charges dismissed when he complied with a judge’s orders.
Kelley said Mercado had been living in a back bedroom at his mother’s Ferry Street home for about a week after being evicted from another apartment. His son was living in a separate bedroom, Kelley said.
“I haven’t heard of many drug kingpins getting evicted,” Kelley said, adding that it’s more likely Mercado was taking the fall for someone else.
Mercado surrendered to police Thursday, a day after his 11-year-old son called police to report he and a 13-year-old cousin had discovered what they thought were drugs in his father’s luggage, police wrote in a report. The child also told police he’d just returned home from school when he thought he saw his father complete a drug deal.
“He is almost 100 percent sure his father . . . is back into drug sales,’’ police wrote.
The child also told officers “he had called DCF [Department of Children and Families] approximately a year ago to report his father, Yamil Mercado, was dealing drugs,’’ police wrote.
The results of the contact between the child and DCF were not immediately clear. A DCF spokeswoman said the department could not comment on the case because of state and federal confidentiality laws.
Police said they had searched the child’s grandmother’s home after the grandmother, who speaks primarily Spanish, signed a consent form printed in Spanish.
Police seized 212 grams of suspected heroin and fentanyl packed in plastic bags from the man’s luggage with an estimated street value of $8,500, police said.
Outside the home Friday, a woman who identified herself as Mercado’s sister said the family was suffering. Their mother is ill, she said, and embarrassed about what happened. Her nephew, she said, is doing fine.
Mercado had been struggling, she said, when he returned to live with his mother.
“He’s not mentally sane right now,” the woman said. “I wish we had known what was going on because we could have gotten him help.” She declined to give her name.
The boy told police he knew his father was a drug dealer, and had been convicted in the past, according to a police report. But court records show the only previous drug charges against Mercado were eventually dismissed.
Mercado was arrested in 2013 when police, conducting surveillance of a suspected drug operation, pulled him over for having an expired driver’s license. As police approached the car, they allegedly saw Mercado shoving small amounts of plastic-wrapped heroin into his mouth. Mercado spit them out, according to a police report, and police ultimately found 16 plastic “twists” in the car.
One drug charge was dismissed, but Mercado admitted to the facts of another. In exchange, the case was continued without a finding and was ultimately dismissed when Mercado complied with court orders.
In court, Kelley said Mercado’s life had taken a hard turn after a contested divorce. Probate court records show he was married to the boy’s mother, Scarlet Jimenez, in New Hampshire in 2003. The couple had two children, but in a 2011 affidavit, Jimenez filed for a restraining order after Mercado allegedly threatened her with a knife and accused her of going out to a club when she returned home late one night.
The couple divorced in 2014, and the last available court records show Jimenez had primary custody of the children. It was not clear how the boy came to stay with Mercado. Nobody answered the door at Jimenez’s apartment Friday, and she did not return a call.
In a telephone interview, Lawrence Police Chief James Fitzpatrick said the suspected drugs posed a life-threatening risk to the child, who is now living at an “undisclosed location’’ in the city where police are watching over him.
“I think he is very courageous and brave for doing that,’’ said Fitzpatrick. He said it was the first time he’d seen someone report a parent to police for dealing drugs.
“We know that it was difficult for him, but it was for the best,’’ Fitzpatrick said.