Update: Man accused of Northampton library arson, Hadley cayenne pepper attack, lost his Easthampton home to fire earlier this month

Last modified: Monday, July 21, 2014
NORTHAMPTON — The man police allege is responsible for a fire that caused $5,000 damage to a Forbes Library staircase Monday night was displaced from his Easthampton home by a fire earlier this month.

That suspect, Eric Bertrand, is also connected to an alleged cayenne pepper attack on shoppers at Whole Foods in Hadley on Friday night.

Police found Bertrand, 54, in Hadley and arrested him about 4:13 p.m. Tuesday on a charge of burning a public building.

At his arraignment Wednesday before Northampton District Court Judge Thomas Estes, Bertrand was found incompetent to stand trial. Estes ordered him committed for a psychiatric evaluation. A pre-trial hearing was set for Aug. 4.

City police and firefighters and the state police’s fire and explosion investigation section responded to the report of the fire at Forbes and found matches, a shopping bag, paper towels and three bottles of charcoal starter fluid at the scene.

While police did not provide details, they said Bertrand was identified as a suspect after an “extensive investigation.”

Based on the design on the shopping bag, investigators were led to Serio’s Market on State Street, which uses bags with that design and sells the type of starter fluid that was found in the library, according to the application for criminal complaint in Bertrand’s court files.

Video surveillance showed a man matching Bertrand’s description making a purchase of lighter fluid and other items about 3:40 p.m. Monday.

Police traced the debit card used to make the purchase back to Bertrand, who was spotted in Hadley about 4 p.m. Tuesday.

On July 6, Bertrand and another tenant were displaced from their apartment at 72 Pleasant St. in Easthampton after fire caused about $25,000 in damage to the building.

The cause of that fire is still under investigation, according to Jennifer Meith, state fire marshal’s office spokeswoman.

According to the landlord of the Easthampton building, Theodore K. Taralinkof, Bertrand and the other tenant had been evicted from the building some time before the fire, but were given time to leave.

Early Wednesday morning, a search warrant was executed for a hotel room in Hadley that Bertrand had been renting, according to Northampton police.

During that search, police found a receipt from Serio’s that showed the purchase of three bottles of starter fluid.

According to court files, during his interview with police, Bertrand said he was being tortured by the government, which was using acoustical and sleep-deprivation techniques on him, and also said he had been shot in the head when he was 7 years old.

During the investigation, police said, it came to light that Bertrand had an open warrant issued from Eastern Hampshire District Court on six counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon (cayenne pepper), one additional count of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon (shod foot), and one count each of disorderly conduct and defacing property in connection with the Friday incident at Whole Foods.

According to police, Bertrand was out on bail following his arrest Friday night, but had failed to appear in court for his arraignment Monday, triggering the warrant.

The fire at Forbes damaged the staircase and was put out by a patron and library staff member with fire extinguishers.

Bob Dunn can be reached at bdunn@gazettenet.com.