Townshend man charged with hate crime assault of VPIRG canvasser
By SUSAN SMALLHEER
BRATTLEBORO — A 62-year-old Townshend man pleaded innocent Tuesday to charges of racially-based simple assault for a July 2012 incident involving a canvasser with the Vermont Public Interest Research Group.
Herman Donna is charged with threatening an African-American man, Maroni Minter, 27, of Burlington, who was canvassing on behalf of the Montpelier-based nonprofit organization. He was not injured in the incident.
The simple assault charge, with a hate crime enhancement, could land Donna in prison for two years with a $2,000 fine.
According to the Vermont State Police, Minter believed Donna had a gun in his hands and threatened to shoot him, and called him racial epithets. Police said that while Donna did not own a gun, he admitted using a long-barreled lighter and a garden tool to threaten Minter.
Donna then got into his sport utility vehicle and chased Minter, who was traveling by bicycle. Minter told police he was carrying his VPIRG identifying information, as well as a clipboard and brochures about the group’s programs. Minter told police that a woman at the home told him they were not interested, and he had turned to leave when he was yelled at by a man.
“Minter stated that he turned around and observed the male reach up and grab a gun, described as a black colored pistol, from above the porch doorway,” state police said.
VPIRG regularly canvasses during the summer, raising money for its programs on health, the environment and the economy, state police said.
State police investigated the July 17, 2012, incident at the time, and charges were brought a year later by the Vermont attorney general’s office. Assistant Attorney General Ultan Doyle, who is handling the case, did not return a call for comment for the delay in bringing the charges.
According to a press release from the attorney general’s office, Donna used several racial epithets and chased the canvasser from his property, while threatening to kill him.
Minter believed that Donna had a handgun and he told police that Donna threatened to shoot him repeatedly, and even followed him down his driveway at 216 Jay Road in an SUV. Police determined that Donna actually had a garden tool and a lighter with a tube extending from the handle.
Minter, who was on a VPIRG-issued bicycle, said he tried to get away from Donna as quickly as possible, but his bike wasn’t working well, so he went to a neighbor’s home to ask to use the phone and to get away from Donna.
The neighbor told police Minter was shaking and appeared very afraid after the incident. Minter told police that on a scale of 1 to 10, his fear was the maximum.
Donna and his wife Deborah Donna told police their home had been broken into a few years ago, “and he has now become paranoid so he locks the house and cars to keep from being burglarized again.”
“He said he is vigilant and watches out for his neighbors too and he was not sure what Minter was up to nor did he recognize him,” the police officer wrote.
Deborah Donna said her husband did yell at Minter, but never threatened to kill him.
Herman Donna denied making any racially-based statements, the affidavit filed in court stated.
Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, said last summer’s incident with the canvasser was an isolated incident, and he declined further comment because it was a criminal case.
He said that VPIRG’s experiences going door-to-door were “overwhelmingly” positive. VPIRG started canvassing in Windham County again last week.
Burns, who said he was not aware that the charges had been brought, said the canvasser in question was again working for VPIRG this summer.