Former lawmaker says he was panicked during pepper-spray incident

Sean I. Mills
Staff writer
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Posted 6/7/19

Former county legislator Ronald D. Townsend told law enforcement officials that he was panicked when he sprayed another man with dog repellent on Westbrook Drive. Townsend said the man had been …

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Former lawmaker says he was panicked during pepper-spray incident

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Former county legislator Ronald D. Townsend told law enforcement officials that he was panicked when he sprayed another man with dog repellent on Westbrook Drive. Townsend said the man had been harassing him for years.

The victim told police that Townsend was the aggressor while he was bicycling on Townsend’s street.

Townsend, 74, of 1112 Laurel St., pleaded not guilty in Rome City Court on Thursday on a charge of third-degree assault. His case was adjourned to June 19.

Police said at about 1:40 p.m. June 2, Townsend sprayed the man with pepper spray, causing a burning sensation to the face and blurred vision. Police said Townsend was in his motor vehicle at the time and sprayed the man from the driver’s seat, then drove away. The victim sought treatment at Rome Memorial Hospital.

Victim’s statement

In a statement he gave to police, the victim said he was bicycling around the city when he spotted Townsend driving on Laurel Street. The victim said he knew Townsend because Townsend was convicted in 2016 of forcibly touching the victim’s daughter at the YMCA in Rome.

“As Ronald passed me, he pointed his fingers at me through his windshield,” the victim told police.

The victim told police they both turned onto Westbrook Drive from Laurel Street, with the victim behind Townsend. The victim told police that Townsend turned around in his vehicle.

“As Ronald got close, I saw him roll down his driver’s side window. Ronald told me to get off his street and then I saw him pull out a white can…and he sprayed me in the face with pepper spray,” the victim told police.

“As Ronald sprayed, he said, ‘there, how does that feel?’.”

The victim told police he captured the incident on a camera mounted to his bicycle.

Townsend’s statement

In his statement to police, Townsend said the victim has been harassing him since the prior conviction in 2016, including repeatedly riding his bicycle on Laurel Street and shouting at Townsend. In the statement, Townsend said the victim had harassed him earlier in the day on June 2 while Townsend was walking with his wife.

Townsend said his wife asked the man to leave them alone, and the man replied, “why, do you have a gun?”, and then added, “well you better have one next time I see you.”

Townsend said he reported this harassment to the police.

Later that afternoon, Townsend said he left his home to get gasoline when he saw the victim bicycling on his street again. Townsend said in his statement that he was worried about his wife, who was outside. “I didn’t know what this nut was going to do,” Townsend said in his statement.

“I saw (the victim) coming pretty quickly right toward my car. He was shaking his hand and was yelling something, so I put the window down to hear what he was saying, and by the time I got the window down, he was inches from my car,” Townsend told police.

“He was yelling, ‘I’m after you’, and shaking his hand at me. He stopped right in my window, and that’s when I panicked and grabbed the dog repellent that was in my center cup holder.”

Townsend continued, “I think I sprayed him in the face. I don’t know if I got him or not, he was wearing a hood. After that, I just took off because I figured I gotta get out of here and I didn’t know what he was going to do after that.”

Townsend said in his statement that he contacted his lawyer, who told him to contact the police and file a report.

Townsend has twice served on the county Board of Legislators. He ran again in 2015 and lost.