An Essex man accused of using racial slurs and pointing a gun at a store clerk last week must undergo a sanity evaluation before a judge sets bail.
Sheldon Rheaume, 23, walked into Chittenden Superior Court shackled and said nothing during his brief appearance Monday. He was there for a bail hearing, but lawyers first met with Judge Nancy Waples in chambers. A half-hour later, the judge informed Rheaume he would remain in custody while he undergoes the evaluation.
Rheaume has remained jailed since last week, when he pleaded not guilty to charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, reckless endangerment and disorderly conduct – the third carrying an additional penalty because prosecutors say the alleged crime was motivated by hate.
Through attorney Mandy Lewis, Rheaume pleaded not guilty Monday to an additional charge stemming from a June incident in which police say he stole the Black Lives Matter flag off the pole at Essex High School. The school raised the flag in May as part of a student-led effort.
Prosecutors requested Rheaume be held without bail at his arraignment last week due to what they called the randomness of his actions. Asserting he was a risk to the public, prosecutors said Rheaume’s only motivation appeared to be his victim’s race.
Early on August 14, Rheaume walked into Maplefields on Main Street and directed racial slurs at a store clerk sitting behind the counter, court records say. He left the store to complain to another employee, referring to the woman again in racial epithets. When she walked outside, Rheaume told her, “I’ll handle you.”
He took out a gun, waved it in her face and pointed it at her, court records show. He then told the employees he will shoot anyone they send after him, and before driving away, put on a ballistic vest.
Essex police arrested Rheaume later that morning in the nearby Hannaford parking lot. Officers found a loaded 9mm handgun with one round in the chamber sitting in his vehicle’s center console. He was still wearing the vest, an affidavit says.
Court records show a security camera recorded the incident, but Essex police denied The Reporter’s public records request for the footage, citing exemptions aimed at ensuring defendants receive a fair trial.
Lewis argued prosecutors have no evidence to show conditions of release wouldn’t prevent further violence and pointed to her client’s clean record. But the new charge shows Rheaume’s arrest last week wasn’t his first run-in with the law.
According to court filings, Rheaume arrived at EHS just before 6 a.m. on June 23 and walked over to the flag pole. He lowered the flags, removed the BLM pennant and re-raised the American flag before driving onto the sidewalk and throwing a newspaper in front of the high school’s doors.
Lewis said at Rheaume’s arraignment that he started delivering newspapers in the village about six months ago, and court filings say he delivered a paper to the school every weekday.
Essex High School’s safety coordinator reported the theft on June 28 and told police he had video of the crime. When police approached Rheaume during his delivery the next morning, he admitted to the crime, the affidavit says.
Rheaume told officers he took the flag because he believes Black Lives Matter disrespects the military, law enforcement and first responders. Rheaume said he threw the flag in the dumpster behind the school, but when they checked, the dumpster had been emptied, court records show.
News of Rheaume’s crime quickly spread on social media last week and has inspired a pair of community-led efforts. In a public Essex Facebook group, several residents said they planned to send letters or emails to Maplefields sharing their support for the employee.
And advocacy group Essex Resists hosted a 90-minute “No Home for Hate” protest in the Five Corners last Sunday that drew about 60 people, according to organizers. At one point during a signal change for pedestrians, protestors stood in the middle of the busy intersection equipped with signs decrying racism, including one that read “Yes, even in Vermont.”