MERIDEN — In November 2015, Trayquan Ford pleaded guilty to a weapons charge. He was released on probation in April 2016. In late June of this year, he was charged with interfering with an officer and interfering with a search warrant while police searched for a gun.
Given Ford’s conviction history, Meriden police set bail at $100,000, but the court reduced the bail amount to $15,000 and he was released after his arraignment.
In July, Ford was arrested again after police said he was found walking downtown with a gun, and he told officers he almost shot at their vehicle because he thought it was someone who was “after him.”
He was charged with criminal possession of a firearm, possession of a pistol without a permit and altering the serial number on a firearm. This time, Meriden police set bail at $500,000, while the bail commissioner asked for $150,000 and the public defender asked for $50,000. The Superior Court judge set bail at $250,000, and Ford remains behind bars.
Ford’s relative Dujour Ford shares a similar bail story. After an April 23 arrest on charges of illegally discharging a firearm on Springdale Avenue, Meriden police set bail at $250,000 but the court lowered it to $90,000. He posted bail six days later and was released. In June, he was arrested again and charged with first-degree assault, criminal use of a firearm and carrying a pistol without a permit, related to a shooting on Gravel Street.
Police said both Fords and several other “extremely dangerous” gang members are behind the rise in shootings that have occurred in Meriden since April. They also said some of the violence in the city could have been prevented had it not been so easy for the suspects to be released from custody. Ten gang members in total have been apprehended from a group of about a dozen, Police Chief Jeffry Cossette told city residents Tuesday night.
State Sen. Dante Bartolomeo met with neighborhood associations, Cossette and other city leaders as the shootings continued through the spring and summer. She said she wasn’t quite sure what her role could be since the shootings were a local matter, but the quick release of gang members charged with crimes involving weapons was jarring.
“When you have this history, and the reason for the search is a gun, that should be considered when setting bail,” Bartolomeo said about Trayquan Ford.
Bartolomeo met Monday with members of adult probation and bail services, representatives from the Judicial Branch, Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane, Supervisory State’s Attorney for Meriden Superior Court James Turcotte, the state and local public defender’s office, Meriden City Manager Guy Scaife, Cossette, Deputy Police Chief Tim Topulos, Detective Mike Fonda and Rep. Cathy Abercrombie D-Meriden.
“I am concerned that certain bail decisions made at the Geographical Area court level have placed our community further at risk when, over the objections of the respective state’s attorneys, bail was reduced from the amount originally placed on the defendants,” Bartolomeo wrote in a Aug. 23 letter to Judge Patrick Carroll III, chief court administrator. “While the Meriden police are diligently investigating each incident, proactively monitoring all leads to prevent additional incidents, and making arrests, the shootings continue to occur — some involving repeat offenders.”
Bartolomeo’s goal was to get all parties to talk to each other so they can make better-informed decisions when recommending or setting bail.
“It was a good conversation,” she said. “There should be minimum bail or cash-only bail for a suspect who committed a crime with a weapon. I want to solidify a system where a violent criminal is detained until trial.”
Bartolomeo, a Democrat who is running for re-election, is also taking a look at the bail bond system for potential changes, and the group will meet again before a final proposal goes to the General Assembly when it meets again in January.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has made bail reform a priority in the upcoming session and has asked the Sentencing Commission to examine the current bail bond system for reform and a review of the state’s diversionary programs, said Mike Lawlor, Office of Policy and Management undersecretary for criminal justice policy and planning.
The governor agrees there is a flaw in the system when high-level criminals can be released on bail, and low-level offenders are jailed, Lawlor said. The decision to set bail often rests on the likelihood of the defendant’s appearing in court, but judges can factor in dangerousness on very specific charges, he said.
“Ironically, the people who get arrested the most, the bail bondsmen are on speed dial,” Lawlor said. “If you’re a frequent flier, you can get a discount.”
Malloy asked the commission to research the impact of bail on nonviolent, low-level offenders currently incarcerated because they could not raise bond. He has also asked the commission to look at what other states have done recently to keep dangerous defendants locked up before trial and make a recommendation by January.
Bartolomeo’s opponent in the 13th Senate District race, Republican Leonard Suzio, blamed the city’s violence on the state’s early release program that lets prisoners earn credits for release after serving 85 percent of their sentences. Suzio called it a “failed system.”
Of bail restructuring, Suzio said: “It’s a phony response to a phony solution designed to make politicians look like they’re doing something. My problem is with the criminals who are getting out early. Make sure the convicted hardened criminals serve their full term.”
Suzio said half of the suspects involved in the city shootings had served time for violent crimes and were released early, but he did not provide specifics.
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