California visitor faces aggravated assault charge

Authorities say suspect shouted slur against gays

By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

A California man was arrested after he was accused of shouting a derogatory comment at a Williston motel employee and attempting to hit him with a car.

James W. Darden, 19, was arraigned July 1 on charges of aggravated assault, disorderly conduct and careless and negligent operation of a motor vehicle.

Williston police initially cited Darden on a charge of a hate-motivated crime, according to Williston Police Officer Dan Gowans. However, he was not formally charged with that crime.

Darden, a Watsonville, Calif. resident, was in Williston to help move his parents to Vermont, Gowans said. Darden arrived the evening of June 29, Gowans said, and was arrested the following afternoon.

Gowans said the charges surrounded an incident that occurred at the Fairfield Inn on Vermont Route 2A. Darden was driving a vehicle with his younger brother, when “he came flying into the hotel parking lot,” according to Gowans.

A Fairfield Inn staff member asked Darden to drive more slowly, Gowans said. The staff member told Gowans that Darden grew very upset and “got in his face and told him he would drive any way he wanted to.”

As Darden walked to his car, he allegedly yelled at the staff member, “All Vermonters are f—— faggots.”

The staff member attempted to write down Darden’s license plate. Gowans said Darden noticed the employee reading the license plate and put the car into reverse, apparently attempting to hit the staff member. Gowans said the employee jumped out of the way.

After his arraignment, Darden was lodged at the Chittenden County Correctional Facility on $2,500 bail.

Gowans said aggravated assault in Vermont does not have to include an actual instance of assault. He said an attempted assault — such as attempting to strike someone with a car — could be classified as aggravated assault.

Gowans said Darden’s slur and subsequent actions met the state’s qualifications for a hate crime, but the Chittenden County State’s Attorney’s Office did not file that charge against Darden.