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California officer to face assault charge

September 3, 2021 GMT

PETALUMA, Calif. (AP) — A former police officer in Northern California faces trial in November on misdemeanor charges of assaulting a Black woman last summer.

The case against Lance Novello, a 19-year veteran of the Petaluma Police Department, marks the city’s first public reckoning since the killing of George Floyd led to calls for greater law enforcement oversight, the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat reported Thursday. It comes as a race and policing committee is scheduled to make recommendations to the Petaluma city council.

Sonoma County prosecutors alleged Novello assaulted Elizabeth Cole, a Black student at Santa Rosa Junior College, in July 2020. He was charged with battery and assault by a police officer and faces up to a year in jail, a $10,000 fine and the prospect of losing the right to bear arms if convicted.

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Novello, who was named the city’s Officer of the Year in 2016, was placed on paid administrative leave during an investigation. He retired two days after charges were filed.

Officials have not disclosed details about the incident and the city of Petaluma has not released body camera footage of the incident.

Sonoma County prosecutors and and a spokesperson for Novello’s lawyers declined to comment on the specifics of the case.

Police Chief Ken Savano said he couldn’t discuss details because the case is ongoing.

“The way we responded to this situation, not only as a police department, but as a city, demonstrates and shows an example of how we maintain the trust and confidence of the public we serve,” Savano said.

“I’m confident that when more of the details of this situation come out, that the public will see that we did what they expect us to do in terms of how we handled this,” he added.

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This story has been corrected to reflect that the alleged incident did not occur at a protest.