Former Petaluma officer charged with assault of Black student

A former Petaluma police officer has been charged with assault stemming from an on-duty incident last summer, the city announced on Thursday. 

Lance Novello, who retired in October 2020, was charged with misdemeanor assault under color of authority and battery stemming from some sort of incident that occurred on July 20, 2020. The city said he was charged three days prior to his retirement. 

The city did not make reference to what the assault was about or who was involved. 

However the Petaluma Argus-Courrier reported that Novello assaulted Elizabeth Cole, a Black student who attended Santa Rosa Junior College’s Petaluma campus.

Details so far been limited to a three-page complaint filed by the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office, which has declined to comment. 

However,  Sonoma County Chief Deputy District Attorney Brian Staebell told the Argus-Courrier that his office would make the footage available.

However, Novello’s legal team has 15 days to review the footage and respond first. The ex-officer's attorneys at the Rains law firm were unavailable for comment.

The city did say that within hours of the assault, Novello was placed on administrative leave and he was suspended his police powers.  

In a statement, Petaluma officials said they refrained from making a public statement regarding this case to preserve the integrity of the independent investigation and the criminal justice process, but also to protect the rights of all those involved. However, the city added that they are releasing this information now in response to a media inquiry.