The owner of a Vermont firearms training center is charged with aggravated assault during arrest

FILE - Daniel Banyai, the owner of Slate Ridge, speaks to supporters, April 17, 2021, in West Pawlet, Vt., during a Second Amendment Day Picnic. Banyai, the owner of a former firearms training center in Vermont, was arrested on Wednesday, March 20, 2024 in Pawlet, Vermont, state police said. (AP Photo/Wilson Ring, File)

FILE – Daniel Banyai, the owner of Slate Ridge, speaks to supporters, April 17, 2021, in West Pawlet, Vt., during a Second Amendment Day Picnic. Banyai, the owner of a former firearms training center in Vermont, was arrested on Wednesday, March 20, 2024 in Pawlet, Vermont, state police said. (AP Photo/Wilson Ring, File)

RUTLAND, Vt. (AP) — The owner of a firearms training center in Vermont who was ordered arrested by a judge in December in a long-running legal battle with a town pleaded not guilty to felony aggravated assault Thursday stemming from a scuffle during his arrest the day before, authorities said.

Daniel Banyai, with one eye swollen nearly shut, attended his arraignment by video from the Rutland jail. His public defender entered a not guilty plea and the judge ordered Banyai held on $15,000 bail

Banyai was a passenger in a vehicle that a Pawlet town constable pulled over for speeding Wednesday, Vermont State Police said. When Constable Thomas Covino ordered Banyai out of the vehicle, he refused and called Covino a “dirty cop,” according to the police affidavit. Covino said he called dispatch and asked for a state police trooper to respond but was told that a trooper was 35 to 40 minutes away, the affidavit states.

After repeatedly attempting to get Daniel to get out of the vehicle, the constable told Banyai he was going to use pepper spray. Banyai then made a fist while yelling at him, the constable said. Banyai struck Covino on the left side of the head, according the affidavit, and a scuffle ensued.

Covino said he didn’t know if Banyai hit him first or he pepper-sprayed first. The constable managed to get Banyai on the ground and placed him in handcuffs, then attempted to get the pepper spray off Banyai’s face at his request.

He was treated at a Rutland hospital for minor injuries, and the constable was evaluated by a rescue squad. Banyai is charged with aggravated assault with the intent to prevent a law enforcement officer from performing lawful duty.

If he makes bail and is released, the judge ordered he be on a nightly curfew from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. at his property in West Pawlet and is not allowed to leave the state unless he has permission from the court.

The Rutland County state’s attorney sought a 24-hour-curfew for Banyai saying he is a risk of flight and has a conviction in New York for possession of a weapon and contempt of court.

In December, a Vermont Environmental Court judge ruled that Banyai was in contempt of court for failing to completely remove all unpermitted structures on his property in a long-running legal battle with the town. It was the second time last year that a judge ordered him arrested.

The Rutland County Sheriff and Vermont State Police were ordered to report to the judge on their efforts to arrest him and said in court papers that they had visited the property multiple times and were told he had left the state.

The Pawlet property, known as Slate Ridge, included buildings and two firing ranges. After complaints from neighbors, the town attempted for several years to get Banyai to remove the structures. Three years ago, the Environmental Court ordered Banyai to end any firearms training at the center and remove unpermitted structures. His appeal to Vermont Supreme Court was rejected.

In February 2023, a judge issued a scathing order that Banyai was in contempt of court for deliberately flouting a series of court orders issued since the start of the case. At the time he faced jail and fines that could exceed $100,000 if he failed to comply by June 23.

In response to Slate Ridge, a bill was passed in the Legislature making it a crime to own or operate paramilitary training camps in the state. Republican Gov. Phil Scott signed it into law in May.

AP U.S. News

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