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Trial under way for couple living in van.

Byline: Craig S. Semon

WORCESTER - Nearly 20 months after being charged with resisting arrest and assaulting Southbridge police, the Wrights, a family of four living in a 15-passenger van, had their first of at least two days in Central District Court yesterday.

Going into court yesterday, Edward J. and Gloria A. Wright, 48 and 47, respectively, and their two daughters, Jennifer, 22, and Nicole, 21, were facing charges that they assaulted Southbridge police, who were attempting to arrest Mrs. Wright on a warrant April 28, 2006, stemming from an alleged minimum-space violation. However, charges against the daughters were dropped yesterday, as well as most of the charges against Mrs. Wright.

Mr. Wright is charged with two counts of assault with a dangerous weapon (a dog), disturbing the peace, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.

Tanner, the family's German shepherd, is the alleged dangerous weapon in the case against Mr. Wright. The dog was less than a year old at the time of the incident and was wearing a muzzle and leashed on a chain bolted to the van's floor, Mr. Wright said.

Worcester lawyer Michael E. Rauscher, who is representing Mr. Wright, argued that with two officers there, four backup officers on standby, a plan in place to subdue the dog, which was in the back of the van, he didn't see how his client could have assaulted the officers with this animal.

Mrs. Wright is charged with resisting arrest. Two other charges against her, disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace, were dismissed yesterday.

Jennifer and Nicole Wright were originally charged with disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace, resisting arrest and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon (bleach) but all charges on the sisters were also dropped yesterday.

In court yesterday, Police Chief Daniel R. Charette said in front of Judge David P. Despotopulos and a seven-member jury that he and Officer Duane Ledoux, who also testified, approached the van shortly after 9 a.m. April 28, 2006, with hopes of taking care of a misdemeanor warrant issued against Mrs. Wright for failure to appear in Western Worcester District Court in East Brookfield. At the time of the incident, the van was parked on Elm Street in Southbridge for months.

Officer Ledoux said he offered to take Mrs. Wright to court himself and even offered to take one of her daughters along for the ride if she didn't feel comfortable. Although Mr. Wright said he heard the officers offer to drive his wife to the courthouse, he said he never heard him offer to drive one of his daughters.

Chief Charette and Officer Ledoux said Mrs. Wright was sitting in the driver's seat when they arrived and quickly retreated to the back of the van. Both Mr. and Mrs. Wright said Mrs. Wright was in the back of the van during the incident and it was actually their daughter, Jennifer, in the driver's seat.

Mr. Wright said he asked the officers to produce a warrant and they never did. Chief Charette and Officer Ledoux both said they didn't recall Mr. Wright asking to see or showing him the warrant.

"If you can't show me the warrant I don't want to talk to you," Mr. Wright said he told police before rolling up the front passenger side window.

Chief Charette and Officer Ledoux said Mr. Wright said, "I'll sic the dog on your ass" to the chief. Mr. Wright denied he ever said that. After the alleged threat, Chief Charette said he told Mr. And Mrs. Wright that they were under arrest

When all else failed, Chief Charette said they attempted to put OC gas in the very rear window of the van to get them out.

"They wouldn't come out," Chief Charette said. "There was no other way to get them out of the vehicle."

A noticeably agitated Mr. Wright and teary-eyed Mrs. Wright gave their accounts of events that transpired during a 10 minute-span on the morning of April 28, 2006.

Mrs. Wright said she was in the back of the van when she was showered by flying glass from a shattered-out rear window and was hit in the back of the head with a canister of tear gas.

As a result, Mrs. Wright said her eyes were burning, her vision was blurry and she was coughing for air.

Mrs. Wright said she didn't come out of the van because she didn't trust the chief, adding that he had lied and threatened her and her family in the past.

"In between that 5 to 10 minutes, they were breaking windows and tear-gassing my family," a distraught Mrs. Wright said. "I was scared. They were throwing things and macing the family."

Mrs. Wright said she saw officers with handheld mace spraying through the broken windows. At the point when they took her youngest daughter, Nicole, out of the van, Mrs. Wright said she heard an officer say, "Stop macing. You're macing me." At one point, Mr. Wright said he saw a half-a-dozen police officers spraying mace into the broken windows of the van.

"I though they were going to arrest me, hurt me, whatever," Mrs. Wright said. "This town wanted us out no matter what."
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Dec 19, 2007
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