copyright the Chronicle August 8, 2012
by Joseph Gresser
NEWPORT — Roger A. Pion pled innocent Tuesday to crushing seven police vehicles with a jumbo tractor. He also denied charges related to a July arrest for possession of marijuana and resisting arrest.
An affidavit for the July 3 incident says Mr. Pion was injured during arrest and required medical treatment.
One of the charges against Mr. Pion was dismissed by Judge Robert Bent. David Sleigh, the 36-year-old Newport resident’s lawyer, is asking Judge Bent to throw out others as well.
Mr. Pion first appeared in the Orleans Criminal Division of Vermont Superior Court Friday for arraignment on 11 felony charges and three misdemeanors related to the destruction of the police vehicles on August 2.
Seven of the felonies were for unlawful mischief involving more than $1,000 in damages, one for each of the destroyed vehicles, which belonged to the Orleans County Sheriff’s Department.
The other felony charges included two of carrying a weapon while committing a crime, one of impeding a public officer and one of aggravated assault — with a weapon — of a law enforcement officer.
Mr. Pion was also charged with reckless or grossly negligent driving, leaving the scene of an accident, and unlawful mischief resulting in damages less than $250.
Mr. Sleigh told Judge Howard vanBenthuysen, who presided by telephone, that Mr. Pion would not waive the 24-hour period allowed by law before entering a plea, so the arraignment was postponed until Tuesday at 1 p.m.
Judge vanBenthuysen set bail for Mr. Pion at $50,000, despite Orleans County State’s Attorney Alan Franklin’s request that Mr. Pion be denied bail, or should bail be granted, that it be set at $250,000.
Mr. Sleigh pointed out that Mr. Pion had been unable to meet bail of $15,000, to counter Mr. Franklin’s request.
In court on Tuesday Mr. Pion pled innocent to the remaining charges related to the events of August 2, in order to allow the judicial process to move forward. Mr. Pion also entered a plea of innocent to misdemeanor charges of resisting arrest and possession of marijuana that resulted from a traffic stop in Newport on July 3.
Newport City Police Patrolman Aaron Lefebvre said in an affidavit that he followed a car east on East Main Street that day, and saw that it lacked a license plate validation sticker and that it was speeding.
He pulled the car over and was told by the driver that she was rushing to Tractor Supply in Derby for work-related reasons, Patrolman Lefebvre said. He said Mr. Pion and Joshua Hall, the car’s two passengers, confirmed the woman’s story.
Patrolman Lefebvre said he noticed that Mr. Hall seemed nervous and that he smelled the odor of pot coming from the car. He said he asked the occupants of the car to get out and allow the car to be searched.
The driver and Mr. Hall agreed and the latter quickly handed over a container with a small amount of marijuana in it and a wooden pipe, Patrolman Lefebvre said.
He said that Mr. Pion, who was in the rear seat of the car with his pit bull, initially refused to get out of the car, but eventually consented to do so, although he would not allow officers to pat him down for weapons.
Patrolman Lefebvre said the search of the car turned up no more pot, and the three were allowed to get back in.
He said a records search then showed that there was a warrant out for Mr. Pion. Patrolman Lefebvre said Mr. Pion became irate when asked to get out of the car again.
Patrolman Lefebvre said that there was “a brief banter of obscenities,” and then Mr. Pion pushed the driver’s seat forward and began to get out of the car. He said he tried to take Mr. Pion into custody by using a “hands on approach.”
Mr. Pion continued to argue and resist arrest, Patrolman Lefebvre said, and during the confrontation, the dog got loose.
Patrolman Lefebvre said Mr. Pion stopped resisting and asked permission to get his dog and turn it over to the people in the car. After he did so, Mr. Pion became combative again, Patrolman Lefebvre said.
Along with Patrolman Corey Marcoux, Patrolman Lefebvre said he tried to get control of Mr. Pion’s hands. He said he then “proceeded to affect an arm bar take down which resulted in Pion being transferred to the ground while he continued to resist placing his hands beneath his stomach.”
After the officers handcuffed Mr. Pion, an ambulance was summoned to treat him for “non-life threatening injuries,” Patrolman Lefebvre said. He said Mr. Pion was later taken to North Country Hospital to be evaluated for further injuries.
Patrolman Lefebvre said police searched Mr. Pion and found 4.3 grams of marijuana and a loaded .38 caliber hand gun concealed in Mr. Pion’s crotch area.
An affidavit from State Police Detective Trooper Lyle Decker traced the events of August 2. Detective Decker said that the State Police were called around 12:42 p.m. and told that several of the sheriff’s vehicles were being run over behind the department’s headquarters on Route 5 in Derby.
Detective Decker said he spoke to several witnesses who told him they saw a tractor driven by a skinny man with facial hair. One witness said he saw the tractor drive back and forth over several cruisers three or four times, Detective Decker said.
That witness said the man in the tractor then stopped as if waiting for someone to come out of the building, he said.
Detective Decker said that Newport Police Sergeant Nicholas Rivers and Patrolman Tanner Jacobs were in the Brown Cow restaurant, not far from the sheriff’s department. As they left they saw a tractor matching the description of the one seen crushing the cruisers and caught up to it as it turned from East Main Street onto the Causeway, he said.
In his affidavit Patrolman Jacobs said the tractor slowed down after turning onto the Causeway. The tractor’s driver looked back at the cruiser and “quickly accelerated in reverse towards our direction,” Patrolman Jacobs said.
Patrolman Jacobs said he put his cruiser into reverse and backed up ten or 15 feet before bumping into the car behind him. He said the tractor was still coming toward the cruiser, so he and Sergeant Rivers, fearing that they would be run over, jumped out of their car.
The officers drew their weapons and pointed them at the driver, he said. The tractor stopped and, along with deputies and troopers who had arrived on the scene, Patrolman Jacobs said he ordered the driver out of the tractor.
Mr. Pion was arrested, Patrolman Jacobs said, and a hand gun was taken from him. According to Detective Decker it was a VORA .70 caliber 765.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Mr. Sleigh argued that the evidence provided in the affidavits was insufficient to warrant some of the charges against Mr. Pion.
A felony charge of impeding a public officer was dismissed by Judge Bent for lack of probable cause after Mr. Sleigh argued that under Vermont law dating back to the 1830s, the crime requires that the officer be hindered while actual performing his duty. Judge Bent rejected Mr. Franklin’s contention that the Orleans County deputies were impeded in their pursuit of Mr. Pion by the lack of operable cruisers.
Mr. Sleigh also asked Judge Bent to dismiss the aggravated assault charge on the grounds that there was not proof that Mr. Pion had intended to cause bodily injury to someone. He said the state’s affidavits showed that Mr. Pion had backed his tractor toward the officers, but also said that he stopped 15 feet from their cruiser.
Mr. Franklin said that Mr. Pion turned, looked directly at the officers and then backed his tractor toward their car. He said the officers were in fear of their lives.
Mr. Sleigh countered that there might be charges under which placing someone in fear of imminent danger might be a factor, aggravated assault is not one of them. He said that the affidavit provided no evidence that the tractor was used in a way that would cause bodily harm.
Judge Bent said he needed time to consider the matter and review the law before making a decision on Mr. Sleigh’s motion.
Mr. Sleigh’s final motion was one alleging that Mr. Franklin, by filing multiple charges of unlawful mischief, one for each car, is attempting to make several charges out of a single criminal act, thus violating the constitutional provision against double jeopardy. Mr. Sleigh asked Judge Bent to strike all seven of the charges.
Mr. Franklin asked for time to respond to this motion, a request that Judge Bent granted.
Mr. Franklin again asked that Mr. Pion be denied bail, or that bail be set at $250,000. Judge Bent, though, left bail set at $50,000. Mr. Pion remained at Northern State Correctional Facility for lack of that sum.
contact Joseph Gresser at [email protected]