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Slate Ridge owner Daniel Banyai pleads not guilty to assault charge

A man in a red jumpsuit with a beard on a video screen.
Glenn Russell
Daniel Banyai appears remotely in Rutland County Superior criminal court in Rutland on Thursday, March 21.

Daniel Banyai, the owner of a controversial military-style training facility in West Pawlet, pleaded not guilty on Thursday to allegedly hitting a town constable in the head while he was being arrested. He’s currently being held at Marble Valley Regional Correctional Facility and will likely remain in prison until he posts bail and complies with an environmental court order.

Banyai, who wore a red jumpsuit and appeared to have a black eye, didn’t speak during his arraignment on Thursday and appeared at the brief hearing via a video call from the prison.

The aggravated assault charge, a felony, carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

More from Vermont Public: Slate Ridge owner Daniel Banyai leaves Vermont after judge renews arrest warrant

According to an affidavit filed by Vermont State Police trooper Jonathan Hall, Pawlet Second Constable Tom Covino pulled over a pickup truck on Wednesday afternoon that was going 14 miles over the posted speed limit. While Covino was interviewing the driver, he noticed Banyai, who had an active arrest warrant, in the passenger seat, the affidavit says.

Banyai had reportedly left the state in December after Environmental Court Judge Thomas Durkin ordered Banyai’s arrest for ignoring multiple orders to remove unpermitted structures from his property.

Covino said Banyai refused multiple orders to leave the truck and allegedly called Covino a “dirty cop,” the affidavit says. Banyai took off his seat belt and leaned forward aggressively after Covino said he was going to use pepper spray on Banyai, according to the affidavit. Covino and Banyai got into a scuffle and Banyai ended up on the ground and handcuffed, the affidavit says.

Covino told VSP trooper Hall that it was “unclear” if Banyai struck first or if Covino used the pepper spray first, according to the affidavit. Covino was hit twice in the head and hurt his hand during the encounter, the affidavit says. Banyai was treated for minor injuries at Rutland Regional Medical Center before being brought to Marble Valley Regional Correctional Facility, state police said in a press release Wednesday.

During Thursday’s arraignment, Judge Cortland Corsones deemed Banyai a flight risk and set bail at $15,000.

But even if Banyai posts bail, he’ll likely be held in prison until he complies with the environmental court’s order that he take down several structures on his property. According to Judge Durkin’s December order, Banyai must remain in the custody of the Department of Corrections “until he purges himself of contempt by bringing the subject property into compliance.”

More from Vermont Public: Bennington Banner reporter breaks down latest after inspection of Daniel Banyai's Slate Ridge

Durkin first issued an arrest warrant for Banyai last summer, a rare move in environmental court. That was after Banyai repeatedly ignored a court order to take down the buildings on his land that the town of Pawlet said were part of an unpermitted shooting range.

Durkin reissued the warrant in December after Pawlet town officials inspected Banyai’s property and found that it still wasn’t in compliance.

Banyai and the town of Pawlet have been at odds since 2017, when Banyai first built Slate Ridge, an outdoor shooting range on his 30-acre property. Town officials said that Banyai started running a firearms training facility without proper permits.

Neighbors who complained about Slate Ridge said that Banyai and his accomplices terrorized them. Banyai has told the Bennington Banner that he wasn’t running a paramilitary training facility and that the property is primarily a farm.

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Liam is Vermont Public’s public safety reporter, focusing on law enforcement, courts and the prison system.
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