FARRELL — A man accused of scuffling with police May 31 during a protest march had his charges held for court after a hearing Friday before District Judge Mary A. Odem.
William S. Novak, 29, of West Middlesex, is charged with reckless endangerment, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and possession of an offensive weapon.
Novak was among more than 100 people who took part May 31 in a march to protest police misconduct after George Floyd, a Black man, was killed by white former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
The charges against Novak stem from a reported incident at 4:17 p.m., after the protest reached Hermitage, when someone threw a liquid from a water bottle at a state trooper and police subsequently attempted to arrest Novak.
Others who participated in the protests turned up Friday at Odem’s court to show support for Novak.
Two Hermitage police officers — Chief Eric Jewell and Cpl. Louis Squatrito — testified during the hearing.
Jewell testified that he and another Hermitage police officer were walking down North Hermitage Road along with protesters during the march. Jewell said he didn’t consider the protest entirely “peaceful” because the marchers blocked a high-volume road and some marchers shouted derogatory words at law enforcement officers.
However, he said other marchers were courteous and peaceful and some offered him bottled water.
As he was walking at the crowd’s tail end, Jewell said he heard someone say a state trooper — state police assisted local officers with security during the march — had taken out pepper spray. Jewell said that excited the crowd and he asked the trooper to step away.
As the trooper stepped back, Jewell said he saw Novak fling water from a bottle onto the trooper.
‘‘I was concerned that reckless, totally unwarranted action, could entice others to throw things at law enforcement,” he said.
Jewell said he attempted to remove Novak from the crowd, but he resisted, and other marchers began pulling on Novak to prevent police from separating him from the group.
During the protest, Novak carried a AR-15 rifle and a handgun, both of which were loaded and each had a round in the chamber, police said.
Police also said they found a switchblade push-button knife in Novak’s possession, which led to the prohibited offensive weapon charges.
During the scuffle, Jewell said the weapon’s barrel was pointed at him at one point. Though Jewell said he didn’t think Novak was trying to shoot anyone, the police chief said it was very dangerous to be wrestling over a semi-automatic, high-powered rifle when surrounded by other law enforcement and protesters, some of whom included women and children.
After Novak was disarmed and taken into custody, Jewell said he released him to deescalate the situation.
Novak’s attorney Stanley Booker showed Jewell a video that was taken at the time of the incident. At one point in the video, Booker asked if Jewell could identify Novak, who appeared to be standing with his hands in the air.
Jewell confirmed it was Novak, but said that portion of the video did not provide the full context and that Novak did not initially put his hands up when police detained him.
Booker also asked Jewell if he could confirm that he saw Novak throw liquid on the trooper. Jewell said he saw the bottle in Novak’s hand and a stream of liquid that appeared to start with the bottle and end on the trooper.
During his testimony, Squatrito said he could see the liquid going toward the trooper, but couldn’t say where the liquid came from.
Squatrito said he assisted Jewell during the struggle to take Novak into custody. He confirmed Jewell’s testimony that Novak attempted to resist as others in the crowd tried to pull him away from police. Squatrito said he removed the magazine from Novak’s weapon and confirmed it was loaded.
After Friday’s hearing, Novak will reappear in court for a formal arraignment at 9 a.m. Aug. 25, 2020 before Judge Tedd C. Nesbit, according to court documents.