BENNINGTON — A man whose harassment of an African-American state representative caused her to drop out of the election last year was arraigned Thursday on charges of possessing large-capacity ammunition magazines, a charge for which, if convicted, he could be sentenced to up to two years in jail.
Max B. Misch, 36, of Bennington, pleaded not guilty in Bennington criminal court on Thursday to two misdemeanor counts of possession of the devices. Each charge is punishable by up to one year in jail.
Misch has spoken openly with the media about the campaign of harassment and intimidation directed toward Kiah Morris, who had been a member of the Vermont House of Representatives, and described himself as a “troll.” He said it had been “fun” for him, but when asked if he wanted to comment on Thursday, Misch walked by without replying.
He was also ordered not to have contact with Kiah Morris, who had been a member of the Vermont House of Representatives, or her husband, James Lawton.
Misch was arrested by the Vermont State Police and his prosecution is being handled by the office of Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan.
Assistant Attorney General Ultan Doyle asked Judge William Cohen to set a bail of $400, $200 for each charge, but Misch was released without bail.
Misch was ordered to allow the Vermont State Police to take possession of any firearms or dangerous weapons.
Attorney Susan McManus, who represented Misch, said her client objected to being “stripped of his Second Amendment rights.”
“My client has also received death threats online from numerous individuals because of the national attention this case has received so he himself has received death threats. To say that he cannot possess firearms where there is no applicable threat to any members of the public would be a forfeiture of his Constitutional rights to possess those firearms that he legally can possess,” McManus said.
McManus said Misch would agree to a condition that he not possess any illegal firearms or weapons.
While Cohen said he noted Misch’s objections, he granted Doyle’s request about weapons and a separate request that he issue an order allowing Vermont State Police to go to Misch’s Gage Street home to collect the weapons.
In an affidavit, Trooper Patrick Slaney said he was assigned to investigate Misch on Jan. 25. Slaney said the Bennington Police Department had initiated the investigation in October.
According to the affidavit, Lisa Shapiro, also known as Lisa Misch, Max Misch’s ex-wife, had told police about Misch’s “escalating behavior, racist ideations and a continued effort to obtain additional firearms, magazines and ammunition.”
Slaney interviewed Shapiro on Jan. 28. He said she told him she had shared her concerns about Misch’s behavior with her therapist who had contacted law enforcement. It wasn’t clear from the affidavit whether the Bennington Police Department had been contacted by Shapiro or her therapist initially.
“Shapiro described Misch as an intelligent man who has a working knowledge of laws and personal rights. He has a predatory nature and tries to intimidate people physically and through the internet. Shapiro said that Misch has no loyalty and is arrogant. Misch identifies as a white supremacist and neo-Nazi and is a proud member of the Green Mountain Goys, a local white supremacist group,” Slaney wrote in the affidavit.
Shapiro also accused Misch of assaulting her in March 2016.
She told Slaney she drove Misch to Hinsdale, New Hampshire, in December where he allegedly bought two 30-round magazines. She said she is not familiar with firearms but said Misch told her that high-capacity magazine sales and possession were no longer legal in Vermont.
Slaney said he obtained records and video of the New Hampshire sales from the store on Jan. 31.
The affidavit said Slaney and Lt. Reg Trayah, of the Vermont State Police, interviewed Misch on Feb. 6. He admitted to buying magazines for an AR-15-style rifle in the last six months but declined to continue the interview when asked if he purchased any magazines after Oct. 1.
Executing a search warrant on Feb. 6, police found two 30-round magazines in Misch’s homes that matched the purchases seen on the New Hampshire store’s video surveillance.
After Misch’s arraignment, Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan spoke with the press. Donovan has been criticized for declining to prosecute Misch for what members of the Rutland Area chapter of the NAACP called a campaign of terror against Morris. Donovan’s decision was announced at a Bennington press conference which Misch attended.
Donovan criticized Misch’s behavior but said the First Amendment protected his right to free speech.
Donovan said the charges brought on Thursday were based on new evidence disclosed to his office the week of Jan. 22.
He denied the prosecution was a “vindictive act” of the attorney general’s office.
“We treat everybody with respect, but when there’s an allegation that somebody violated the law, we’re going to investigate that allegation. We’re going to gather the facts, the evidence and make a determination whether or not the law was violated. That’s what we did in this case. We believe there was probable cause. The court agreed with us. Mr. Misch was charged,” he said.
Donovan said Morris and her family have been kept informed about the case.
He said he believed the charges against Misch were the first prosecution of the law, enacted last year, about the possession of large-capacity magazines.