Ex-TV pitchman disrupts hearing on owl allegations

AP News
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Posted: Dec 11, 2014 7:06 PM
Ex-TV pitchman disrupts hearing on owl allegations

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A former TV pitchman in Utah known for his over-the-top personality turned his initial court appearance into a sideshow Thursday by being disruptive and combative with a federal judge.

Dell "Super Dell" Schanze pleaded not guilty to charges stemming from accusations he chased and kicked a barn owl in flight while on a motorized paraglider. He was held in custody for several hours before being released on conditions that included getting rid of all his weapons.

Earlier in the day, Schanze was placed in handcuffs in a Salt Lake City courtroom after he stood up and interrupted a judge at another man's hearing. U.S. Chief Magistrate Judge Brooke Wells had told that man he would have to surrender any weapons as part of his release.

Speaking loudly from the front row, Schanze declared it was unconstitutional to take the man's guns. Wells ordered U.S. marshals to handcuff Schanze and escort him out.

He was brought back minutes later for his own hearing on charges of knowingly using an aircraft to harass wildlife and pursuing a migratory bird. The Utah U.S. attorney's office said the incident happened in 2011.

The charges, filed in October, came after a federal investigation into a video that surfaced online last year and appeared to show a paraglider near Utah Lake kicking a soaring owl and boasting about it.

Schanze, 45, faces a maximum of 1 1/2 years in jail and more than $100,000 in fines.

He sat beside his court-appointed attorney with his hands cuffed behind his back. When the judge asked if he intended to hire his own attorney, Schanze ignored the question and declared the charges against him lacked merit.

"It's all based on a fake YouTube video," Schanze said.

He remained argumentative as Wells tried to determine if he qualified for a court-appointed lawyer. Eventually Schanze confirmed that he and his wife each make $2,000 a month by working for a brother's business. He said local media ruined his own businesses.

At a later hearing on whether Schanze would remain in custody, Wells said she would let him go despite her reservations. She ordered him to get a job, undergo a mental evaluation and get approval before travelling outside Utah. She also barred him from having weapons.

As the judge explained the conditions, she asked Schanze several times if he understood. "Yes ma'am," he answered each time in a boisterous voice.

Schanze is known in Utah for his shrill, hyperactive TV commercials for his Totally Awesome Computers retail chain. He shut down the stores in 2006 amid sinking sales and legal troubles.

He has since run for political office, including a Libertarian bid for governor.

Schanze's paragliding has run afoul of the law before. In 2006, he was charged with disorderly conduct after flying low near Interstate 15 at rush hour. He kissed the feet of a fan who paid his $300 fine in the case.

Five years later, Schanze was arrested in Oregon after allegedly jumping off the 125-foot-tall Astoria Column. He said outside the jail the government was stifling his creativity.

His other legal troubles include a 2005 conviction for lying to officers after prosecutors said he brandished a gun at Draper residents angry that he'd sped through their neighborhood.

Four years later, Schanze was sentenced to 10 days in jail after police stopped him for weaving in and out of traffic. Prosecutors say his children weren't wearing seatbelts, and Schanze was carrying a loaded gun in his fanny pack without a permit.