Man gets three years in jail after dramatic arrest
By Patrick McArdle
STAFF WRITER | September 20,2013
BENNINGTON — A New York City man whose arrest during a drug sweep in Bennington in January was preceded by what police called “an overwhelming show of force” was sentenced to serve three years in prison after pleading guilty Thursday to two felony charges.
Bernard Rowell Jr., 26, entered his guilty pleas in Bennington criminal court to one count of selling heroin and one count of selling cocaine. As part of the plea agreement, the state agreed to dismiss four other felonies and two misdemeanor charges, all of them drug related.
The circumstances of Rowell’s arrest were described in the courtroom by Bennington County Deputy State’s Attorney Robert Plunkett. Rowell was one of more than 45 people arrested in Bennington County on Jan. 16 as part of “Operation County Strike” which was described at the time as the biggest single-day drug sweep in Vermont’s history.
Plunkett said Rowell was believed to be one of the people who was bringing drugs from New York City to be sold in Vermont although Plunkett said that nine months later, it was unclear whether Rowell was one of the major players.
Police learned during the operation Jan. 16 that Rowell was in a home on Pleasant Street but Rowell refused to leave. Police responded by sending a tactical team in special gear to the home and calling in a helicopter, flown by customs and border patrol agents, which circled the home until Rowell agreed to surrender without further incident.
The sight of the police response attracted a large number of onlookers and media, including television cameras. Many of the neighboring residents watched through open windows despite the cold and snowy conditions.
Col. Thomas L’Esperance, director of the Vermont State Police, said later Jan. 16 that he believed the police response contributed to the peaceful resolution.
“There are times when an overwhelming show of force will cause people to surrender. ... Having this number of officers in Bennington for today was not only necessary, it was the right thing to do,” he said.
The charges to which Rowell pleaded guilty involved selling drugs to a confidential informant, operating on the behalf of police, in December.
Judge Nancy Corsones accepted the plea agreement Thursday and sentenced him Rowell to serve three years to three years and one day in prison. The purpose of such a sentence is to ensure that an out-of-state resident with no real ties to Vermont will not be compelled to stay in the state because he or she is on probation.
In Rowell’s case, in particular, he is expected to serve his Vermont jail sentence and then be extradited to New York where he is facing outstanding, drug-related charges.
Rowell made a brief statement to the court.
“I’d like to apologize to the town and the community if I caused any mischief here. I would like to just do my time and get back home to my kids, continue being a father,” he said.
Corsones chastised Rowell for his words.
“The ‘mischief’ that you caused to the community by selling to a (confidential informant,) I can understand you using that term. The utter destruction that the dealing of crack cocaine and powdered cocaine and heroin has caused in the state of Vermont is beyond description. ... The cancer that this kind of behavior causes for families and communities is beyond description,” she said.