Influx of defendants brings crowds, confusion to court

The lobby of New London Superior Court on Broad Street was awash with bail bondsmen and the relatives of those arrested in Wednesday morning's drug raids as court staff scrambled to present 29 people for arraignment.

At least 10 additional arraignments are scheduled for today.

Awakened early by law enforcement authorities who stormed the region with helicopters, AR-15s and flash bang grenades, family members spent the day waiting to find out whether their relatives would be prosecuted in federal or state court.

Authorities had obtained more than 100 arrest warrants following a 15-month investigation into the trafficking of cocaine and heroin between Connecticut, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Most of those characterized as major players were arraigned in federal court, but many of the defendants presented before state Superior Court Judge Susan B. Handy also had been charged with multiple counts of sale of narcotics.

One of the state defendants, Erick Torres, 25, of Mystic is charged with 10 counts of sale of narcotics and one count of money laundering under the state's Corrupt Organization and Racketeering Activity Act, according to prosecutor Michael E. Kennedy. Torres was ordered held in lieu of a $200,000 bond. He has a 2008 conviction for possession of narcotics with intent to sell, according to court records.

Others brought before the judge were characterized as drug addicts who had purchased cocaine or heroin for personal use. Many of them have been in treatment or said they were about to begin drug rehabilitation. Attorney Jennifer Nowak, a public defender, said Victor Morales, 41, of New London, who is charged with two counts of possession of narcotics, was "a buyer." He was released on a written promise to appear in court. Attorneys representing other drug-addicted defendants asked that Department of Correction officials be notified that they will be "detoxing" in prison.

Courthouse staff hustled to accommodate the influx of defendants and the accompanying paperwork. Clerks entered each case into the Judicial Branch system and created paper files. Bail commissioners interviewed each defendant and reviewed each case to determine the seriousness of the charges and recommend an appropriate bond.

Marshals brought the defendants, most of them dressed in sweatpants and sweatshirts, into the courtroom chained in groups of six or seven so the judge could read them their rights en masse. Standing before the judge, each person was asked to state his name and date of birth before the bail commissioner, prosecutor and defense attorney discussed recommended bond amounts.

Family members, some with small children, waited in the audience to see whether their relative would be going home that night. Some sighed with relief to hear their loved one would be released on a written promise to appear in court and walked out with them a short time later. Others left the courthouse disappointed after the judge set a higher bond. Some met with bondsmen in the lobby to see whether they could raise the cash to get their relative out of prison.

All of the defendants received continuance dates for later this month.

k.florin@theday.com

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