Springfield police say Chester driver threatened to use assault rifle to prevent his car from being towed
Only second person in Vermont to be subject to new Extreme Risk Protection Order
WHITE RIVER JUNCTION - Earlier this month Governor Phil Scott signed the new law making it possible for authorities to preemptively seize someone's firearms if they appeared to be violent and on Monday a Chester man became just the second person in Vermont so far to be the subject of what is known as an "Extreme Risk Protection Order" because police in Springfield say he threatened to use an AR-15 assault rifle on them late Saturday night after he was pulled over for having a head light out on his car.
Joseph Blanchard, 43, refused to speak with a mental health screener prior to his court appearance Monday and he was ultimately held without bail so that he could undergo an emergency in-patient psychiatric evaluation after he entered innocent pleas to a felony count of impeding a public officer and accompanying misdemeanor counts of simple assault by menacing, criminal threatening and aggravated disorderly conduct.
Springfield Police Officer Steven Neily Sr. said he noticed Blanchard's older model Jeep Cherokee had a headlight missing so he stopped it at the Springfield Redemption Center and then asked Blanchard for his license and registration, according to an affidavit filed with the court.
Neily said that Blanchard then began a long, and increasingly testy exchange with Neily and other officers who began arriving after it was discovered that both his registration and his insurance had expired a couple of years ago.
Police said Blanchard began making a series of so-called "sovereign citizen"-type arguments in which he asserted that he had a basic right to drive without having to meet all the requirements of Vermont's motor vehicle laws and regulations.
After going round-and-round with four Springfield Police officers on the legitimacy of their authority for several minutes and allegedly telling them repeatedly that he was just going to drive away, police said Blanchard became angry when he was told his car was going to be towed in order to prevent him from doing that.
"You try and touch my car and I am going to defend myself," Blanchard allegedly said, according to a report filed with the court by Sgt. Gregory Jon Molgano, who wrote that Blanchard continued on, saying "You need a warrant to take my car. You ain't taking my (expletive) car. I have an AR-15 right (expletive) here! Do we need that?"
Molgano said that despite several attempts by police to "de-escalate" the situation Blanchard allegedly tried on two occasions to get back inside his car and, after being prevented from doing so, allegedly told the officers that the only way the confrontation was going to end was if they got back in their cruisers and drove away.
Instead, police handcuffed and arrested Blanchard and seized his Jeep. Then they applied for a search warrant, which was granted the next day.
When officers went through the Jeep on Sunday at the Springfield Police Department, where it had been towed and secured with evidence tape, they reported finding an AR-15 rifle tucked behind the driver seat. They said it had been placed with the barrel positioned horizontally so that it faced the back of the driver's side door, a spot they noted is where a police officer would logically stand when talking to the driver.
Police said the gun was loaded with a 30-round magazine with one round chambered and they noted that the safety on the weapon was off. In a metal ammo can in the backseat area police reported finding another 283 rounds of ammunition.
During his court appearance on Monday, when Windsor County State's Attorney David Cahill told Judge Timothy Tomasi that police had reported finding the gun with a round in the chamber, Blanchard raised his finger and pointed at Cahill while saying loudly "That's a lie!"
Police said they are referring the search information to the Vermont Department of Fish & Wildlife where game wardens may have further charges forthcoming because of the allegations that Blanchard was driving with a loaded weapon.
Prior to his arrest this weekend Blanchard had been awaiting the results of a court-ordered exam to see if he is competent to stand trial in a lewd & lascivious case that was filed against him two years ago after he allegedly admitted that he groped a woman's buttocks at a gathering near his home.
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