Crime and Justice

Day after police arrest man in construction worker attack, prosecutor holds off on charge

Windham Superior Court
The state's courthouse in Brattleboro, where Windham Superior Court's criminal and family divisions are housed. File photo by Mike Faher/VTDigger

Editor's Note: Vermont State Police reported on Sept. 16 that they had arrested the wrong man in an attack on a construction worker in Rockingham two days earlier. Ryan Avery, 45, was cleared of all charges after video surveillance showed him in a different location at the time of the attack. 

Authorities appear to be investigating whether they arrested the right person in Wednesday’s attack on a construction worker on Interstate 91 in Rockingham, according to a prosecutor’s statements in court on Thursday. 

After the worker was slashed with glass shards in the morning, police had warned the public to avoid a “dangerous” suspect on the loose. Ryan Avery, 45, was located and arrested late Wednesday night. 

But Windham County Deputy State’s Attorney Steven Brown declined to file an aggravated assault charge against Avery, thereby delaying an arraignment scheduled on Thursday afternoon for that offense. 

Brown told Judge Michael Kainen in court Thursday that there was more work to be done before filing the charge.

“The state will simply say that it's received information that is exculpatory in nature,” Brown said, “and we're not ready to file the aggravated assault until we can flesh out that information.”

Exculpatory evidence can exonerate a defendant. Brown did not elaborate on the nature of the information.

Instead, Brown’s office charged Avery with assault on a police officer by physical menace, related to an episode after he was detained by Brattleboro police officers Wednesday night. Avery pleaded not guilty and was held without bail at Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield.

According to Vermont State Police, they were called around 9:30 a.m. Wednesday to a construction site near the southbound Rockingham exit for a report of a man, later identified as 24-year-old Ramiro Muro, of North Carolina, who had been “struck and slashed” by someone who then fled into the woods.

Muro told police he was in the woods urinating when he was struck from behind by a fist or some other object, then “bear-hugged” and struck in the nose before being put in a chokehold, according to an affidavit filed in court by Trooper Nathan Greco.

Muro also said the assailant broke a glass Starbucks’ coffee bottle while holding Muro in a chokehold and tried to slice his face and neck with the shards. Muro was able to push away the attacker who then fled into the woods, he told police. 

“Muro stated that he feared for his life and that if he did not fight back, he thinks he would have been killed,” according to the affidavit.

He described the attacker as a white man, with a beard, wearing dark-colored camo pants and dark hoodie sweatshirt. Police conducted a search of the area and couldn’t find the suspect, but reported finding two tent poles, the broken glass and a blanket at the scene. 

Also, according to the affidavit, Christine Bullard, a social worker embedded with the state police working out of Westminster barracks, reached out to the Bellows Falls Police Department and other mental health workers about people experiencing homelessness who match the description provided by Muro.

Bullard elicited three names, the affidavit stated, including Avery’s.

The other two men “were described as non-Violent and this would be out of character for them,” Greco wrote in the affidavit. “She was advised that Avery has an extensive criminal history and is Violent and unstable.”

Muro was later shown a “line-up” of eight photos and identified a recent photo of Avery as the person who attacked him, according to the affidavit. 

Later Wednesday night, according to the affidavit, the Brattleboro Police Department found Avery at the Econo Lodge in Brattleboro and troopers took him into custody.

Avery was wearing tan cargo pants, with a black and gray long-sleeved shirt and a dark gray Colby Sawyer women’s soccer jacket at the time of his arrest, Greco wrote. He refused to speak to police. 

At around 1 a.m. Thursday, according to another police affidavit, troopers tried to transport Avery from the Westminster barracks to the Springfield prison, but he refused to go and eventually threatened troopers and charged at Greco as other troopers came in and restrained him. 

Brown, the prosecutor, argued during Avery’s arraignment at Windham County Superior criminal court in Brattleboro that he should be held without bail. The assault-on-an-officer charge is typically a misdemeanor, but was upgraded to a felony based on Avery’s prior conviction for the same offense.

“The defendant’s behavior has become erratic, unpredictable and poses a substantial risk to public safety,” Brown told the judge, indicating Avery had a “staggering” number of arrests in more than a dozen states, including for past assaults on police officers. 

Most recently, Brown said, Avery pleaded guilty earlier this week to disorderly conduct charges that involved “obstructing traffic.” He was sentenced to five days he had already served in jail. 

Avery’s public defender, Rick Emmons, argued holding Avery without bail for “at most a possible tussle with police” seemed inappropriate. 

His client, Emmons said, was also “astonished” to have been accused of the assault of the construction worker.

“This is a man who is diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, but is coherent and is able to communicate effectively,” Emmons said, adding, “I'm not asking for an evaluation, at least not at this time. I'm asking that he be released on reasonable conditions.”

Kainen, the judge, agreed to the prosecutor’s request to hold Avery without bail.

“The fact that he keeps coming back and has an 80-some-odd page record suggests that he won't follow conditions, at least at this preliminary stage,” Kainen said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story inaccurately described the Brattleboro Police Department's role in the episode.

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