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Drug Agents Hold ‘Trial’ for Defendant

September 19, 1990

APOPKA, Fla. (AP) _ Three drug agents who picked up a suspect put him on ″trial″ in a courtroom, one serving as a judge and the other two acting as the prosecutor and defense lawyer.

They later dismissed the incident as a joke but the public defender’s office said it was a mockery of the judicial system.

″I’ve been a lawyer for 23 years, and I’ve seen all kinds of things, but this is one of the most serious,″ said Public Defender Joe DuRocher. ″It shows a disrespect, almost contempt, for the judicial process.″

The sheriff’s office gave the agents written reprimands.

The agents arrested Charles Chestnut, 35, at a hangout in this Orlando suburb because a fourth agent had earlier bought what he believed was cocaine from him. Chestnut said the officers drove him around before taking him to the sheriff’s office in Apopka.

″I thought they were going to whup me,″ Chestnut said Tuesday.

The agents said Chestnut was drunk and kept asking to see a judge.

″I’d say, ’There’s no judge - it’s almost midnight,″ agent David Ogden said. ″From where he was, he could see the courtroom and the stand. That’s how the joke got started. We said, ’We’ll walk you over there if you want.‴

Agent Eddie Appleby took the judge’s seat. Ogden and Cpl. Chuck De Los Santos stood by Chestnut, who said one of them volunteered to be his lawyer.

″They said, ‘Ain’t you guilty to your charge?’ I said, ’No man, you crazy. Take me to 33rd Street,‴ which is the county jail, Chestnut said. ″I knew it wasn’t real. I been to prison before.″

The agents then took Chestnut back to a holding cell.

De Los Santos described the incident as ″a spontaneous thing, agents clowning around to break the tension.″

He said he believed they had ″a joking relationship″ with the defendant. ″I’m not trying to make light of it, but as quickly as it started, it was stopped. It lasted under 45 seconds,″ De Los Santos said.

The state offered to reduce the charge from selling cocaine to possession of cocaine, a lesser felony. Assistant Public Defencer Betsy Benson turned down the offer on Tuesday after learning that the substance seized from Chestnut was not cocaine.

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