BENNINGTON — A self-described white nationalist pleaded not guilty Monday to two separate charges of disorderly conduct, which reportedly stemmed from race-related incidents.
Max Misch, 37, is facing a charge of disorderly conduct related to the painting of a Black Lives Matter mural in Bennington last August. Misch is accused of walking through the mural paint, smearing the artwork, according to court documents.
His other charge — disorderly conducted as a hate crime — came after Misch reportedly got involved in an altercation with a Black man and the man’s girlfriend last month.
Both charges are misdemeanors. While the first is punishable by up to 60 days in jail and/or a $500 fine, the hate-motivated charge carries more serious consequences: a maximum of two years in jail and/or a $2,000 fine.
Misch’s charging sheet states that his alleged conduct was maliciously motivated by the victim’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, ancestry, age, service in the armed forces of the United States, handicap, sexual orientation or gender identity.
In police incident reports previously obtained by the Banner, Bennington police described Misch as using racist language against a Black man, Dejioun Harden, 23, and his girlfriend, Erin Amidon, during an encounter along Park Street in the early afternoon of Sept. 14.
Misch told investigators he was walking his dog when the couple stopped their car alongside him. Misch accused Harden of starting the altercation by goading him into a fight, saying Misch had a problem with Black people.
Harden allegedly punched Misch after Misch made a racist remark about violent crimes committed by Black people. Police said this statement was captured in Misch’s cellphone video of the argument, whereas a witness reported seeing Harden punch Misch.
Harden and Amidon, on the other hand, told investigators Misch started the trouble by using a racial slur when they drove by him in the Bennington Elementary School area.
But police said surveillance video from a nearby store showed the couple’s car heading north on Park Street, then turning around toward Misch’s location. “It is unclear, why the black Hyundai Sonata turned around,” BPD Officer Keith Diotte said in his incident report.
Diotte said Harden admitted putting Misch in a headlock after Misch supposedly pushed Amidon.
Bennington police said last week they’ve been trying to find Harden and Amidon in order to also cite them. The agency has now requested arrest warrants against them, BPD deputy chief Lt. Camillo Grande had said.
Misch’s other charge is connected to the painting of a Black Lives Matter mural in town on Aug. 30. The Bennington Police Department earlier said that he had been one of four people arrested during the event.
BPD Chief Paul Doucette saw that “Misch walked through various points of the mural with wet paint on his shoes,” Officer Cory Kingston said in his statement of probable cause.
“I observed yellow paint on Misch’s shoes, and yellow paint smeared across some of the mural.” he added.
Misch told police he’d accidentally stepped on the wet paint.
“I wanted to join a few other protesters in the painting location, got inside, and inadvertently stepped on wet paint while getting past a couple of people who were on the perimeter,” Kingston quoted Misch’s sworn statement as saying.
At Misch’s appearance in Bennington Superior criminal court on Monday morning, Judge Cortland Corsones allowed him to remain free from jail on conditions.
Misch has three ongoing misdemeanor cases in Bennington, including possessing “large capacity ammunition feeding devices” in violation of a 2018 state ban that outlawed magazines with more than 10 rounds.
He has asked the Vermont Supreme Court to rule the state law unconstitutional. The court has not yet handed down a decision.
How Misch’s two new cases will affect his pending ones is unclear. The Bennington State’s Attorney’s Office is prosecuting the new charges. Misch has applied for a public defender, according to the local courthouse clerk’s office on Monday.