Shortly after noon on Thursday, August 2, Vermont farmer Roger Pion, 34, rode his parents’ 20,000 pound tractor into Newport, Vermont, on his way to the Orleans County Sheriff’s Department’s new building, where he rolled back and forth over seven of the sheriff department’s cruisers (two unmarked) and a van, before moseying on down the road with no one in pursuit.
There was no one in pursuit for a couple of reasons: first the personnel in the sheriff’s department couldn’t hear what was going on in their parking lot because they had the air conditioning turned on and, second, once they were aware of what happened, they didn’t have a cruiser in which to pursue Pion [pronounced PEE-on]. Two deputies pursued on foot, until a motorist picked them up. Pion was stopped shortly after by the Newport City Police Department, despite his apparent attempt to run over their cruiser with two officers inside. Officers from three agencies surrounded Pion and arrested him at gunpoint. No one was injured.
By now, a little more than a day later, the media coverage of this story has blanketed America, if not the world, at least in its skeletal form. The TV networks had it this morning, and while NBC, Fox, and CBS played it straight, ABC’s Good Morning, America thought it was all pretty funny.
Within a few hours there was a dedicated facebook page titled, “Roger Pion, The Magnificent ,” filled with links to coverage and comments, mostly cheering for his gesture (such as, “warms my heart, “a true patriot,” “don’t mess with a Vermonter” and “Robert Pion: Patriot, Vermonter, Folk Hero, Pot smoker, performance artist, smashing the state, one cop car at a time….”).
Pion is now incarcerated at the Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport. His initial bail of $15,000 has been raised to $50,000 and the state expects to arraign him on August 7.
Because of his alleged attempt to run over an occupied police car, the Vermont State Police have charged Pion with a felony count of aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer. Other charges filed in Orleans County Superior Court include seven felony counts of unlawful mischief, one misdemeanor count of unlawful mischief, one count of gross negligent operation, and one count of leaving the scene of an accident.
Pion was armed at the time of his arrest, but he did not pull the gun out of its holster. State Police detective Lyle Deceker identified the gun as a .32 caliber Czech handgun, the like of which he’d never seen before. Pion has not talked to police in any detail and remained silent at his bail hearing that was held by phone.
Late Friday, attorney David Sleigh of St Johnsbury entered his appearance on Pion’s behalf. Sleigh is a well-known Vermont defense attorney whose work includes a successful challenge to the state’s methods of testing blood alcohol levels of motorists suspected of drunk driving during 2010-2011. On his law firm’s website he is described this way: “David believes that a good lawyer needs to be proactive and willing to vigorously challenge the status quo. Whether he is interviewing a client or arguing in front of a jury, David’s motivation is always the same: to be the best defender of the rights of all citizens.”
Sleigh has already announced his intention to have the aggravated assault charge dropped, since the tractor never actually touched the police cruiser and raised questions as to Pion’s intent: “He never came into threatening proximity of anyone.”
According to speculation by the sheriff’s department, Pion was motivated by anger over a recent arrest for marijuana possession and resisting arrest and that speculation was widely repeated in the media. But Pion’s arrest was by the Newport PD, so that doesn’t quite explain why he crushed the sheriff’s cruisers. The sheriff estimates damages at about $300,000 while the Vermont State Police put it at about $250,000. Police agencies around the state are providing substitute vehicles to Orleans County, which is on the Canadian border.
Although he was widely characterized as a “farmer,” (including at the top of this story), it’s not clear how accurate that characterization is. His parents are apparently farmers, and he may have been growing marijuana, but on his facebook site he says he’s “self-employed.”
Speculation from a non-police, anonymous source has a different, but coherent story: “Evidently, the backstory is that he’s not right in the head, after getting wacked in the head by a hoe years ago. His friends say that he has been self- medicating with mj, with good results, otherwise he becomes agitated and unruly. In this case, it’s probably true. Once the helpful police took away his medicine that helped him be a good, productive, member of society, his already documented mental illness reasserted itself, and the destroyed cars are the result. Hoisted by their own petard. Another clear example of the nanny state doing more harm than good. A good lawyer should get these charges reduced. However, since he is flat out broke, he may be destroyed by the system.”