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Ex- TV pitchman accused of chasing owl in flight taken into custody for court disruptions

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

Dell “Super Dell” Schanze eventually pleaded not guilty to charges stemming from accusations he chased and kicked a barn owl in flight while on his motorized paraglider.

Schanze was put into handcuffs in a Salt Lake City courtroom after he stood up and interrupted the judge as she spoke to a man about a separate case. U.S. Chief Magistrate Judge Brooke Wells told the 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 handcuffs 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 U.S. attorney’s office in Utah says the incident happened in 2011.

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

Schanze, 45, sported a white dress shirt and crew cut as 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. After quarreling with the judge, Schanze finally confirmed that he and his wife each make $2,000 a month by working for a brother’s business. He said local media ruined all of his own businesses.

At one point, Wells told Schanze she wasn’t “playing games” and warned him she would find him in contempt if he didn’t follow instructions and stop speaking out of turn.

He pleaded not guilty to charges of knowingly using an aircraft to harass wildlife and pursuing a migratory bird. He faces a maximum of 1 1/2 years in jail and more than $100,000 in fines.

Schanze was being held until another hearing Wednesday afternoon to discuss what happens next.

Federal prosecutor Jared Bennett said he is concerned about probation officers’ safety if Schanze is allowed to keep all the guns he has in his house. Wells said she would not release him on his recognizance with his criminal record.

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

In the years since, he has 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 who were angry that he’d sped through their neighbourhood.

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.