An Essex man who prosecutors say directed racial slurs at a convenience store clerk before aiming a gun at her denied the charges in court today.

Sheldon G. Rheaume, 23, pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, reckless endangerment and disorderly conduct stemming from an incident early Tuesday morning. The third charge carries an additional penalty because prosecutors allege Rheaume’s actions were motivated by hate.

“His victims were random and only targeted, apparently, because of their race,” deputy Chittenden County state’s attorney Kelton Olney said.

Prosecutors asked Rheaume be held without bail pending a hearing, arguing he’s a continued risk to the public. Pointing to the randomness of the alleged crime, Judge David Fenster sided with the prosecution.

“It’s not clear what triggered this to happen,” Fenster said.

According to court records, a 27-year-old woman was working at Maplefields on Main Street when Rheaume entered the store. Noticing the woman sitting behind the counter, Rheaume called her a “lazy nigger bitch” and said she needed to get up and work.

He left the store to complain to another employee, again referring to the woman in racial epithets. Hearing this, she walked outside, at which point Rheaume told her, “I’ll handle you.”

Rheaume then pulled a handgun from his pocket, waived it in her face and pointed it at her, court records show.

“Come send anyone you want after me and I’ll shoot them,” Rheaume told the two employees. He followed them back into the store, took down the store manager’s contact information and walked outside to his vehicle. He then took out a tactical vest with ballistic plates, put it on and drove away.

Police responded to the scene shortly after 3:30 a.m., and employees reported Rheaume was possibly heading to the Hannaford parking lot. There, three EPD officers found Rheaume and arrested him. Police found a loaded 9mm handgun with one round in the chamber located in his vehicle’s center console. He was still wearing the vest, the affidavit says.

The Maplefields manager confirmed via security footage that Rheaume removed an item from his pocket and waived it toward the woman, court records show. Police say they learned through a prior investigation last February that Rheaume owns two handguns and a rifle.

Rheaume is not shy about his appreciation for weapons. The Burlington Free Press reported earlier this year he was one of 150 gun-rights advocates who attended an April rally along Shelburne Road. A video on the newspaper’s website shows Rheaume wearing a ballistic vest with an AR-15 strapped to his chest.

“It’s not an evil gun,” he told the reporter. “It’s a tool. That’s how I look at all guns: They are tools, they are not weapons of murder.”

Mandy Lewis, a public defender representing Rheaume, pointed to her client’s clean criminal record and argued prosecutors have no evidence to show conditions of release wouldn’t prevent further violence. Lewis said Rheaume lives at home with his parents and has recently found employment delivering newspapers in the village.

“I’m shocked by the state’s argument in this case,” she said.

If convicted on all counts, Rheaume could face up to eight years in prison and be fined up to $8,000. His bail hearing has yet to be scheduled.