Campaign signs just the ticket for theft charge

By SUSANNA RAY

Herald Writer

EDMONDS — A 32-year-old Edmonds man is headed to court after he allegedly was caught blue-handed here Monday night.

The man took a couple of Republican gubernatorial candidate John Carlson’s blue campaign signs from a busy corner, police say, and put up signs for Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore in their place.

Now he could face up to a year in jail or a $5,000 fine, or both, if convicted of third-degree theft, a gross misdemeanor.

Sign theft is certainly common in campaign season, but "it’s a pretty isolated thing to actually be caught," said Ross Marzolf, political director for the state Republican Party. Marzolf added that this is the first instance he’s heard of where law enforcement officers pursued a sign-stealing report and issued a citation.

Det. Sgt. Mike Drinkwine with the Edmonds Police Department said the man told officers he had noticed that some Gore/Lieberman signs had been torn up at the intersection of Highway 99 and Edmonds Way, and Carlson signs had been put up in front of signs for Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Maria Cantwell. So he replaced the Carlson signs with new Gore/Lieberman signs at about 5:50 p.m. Monday.

"Someone saw him doing it, and jotted down the license plate number," Drinkwine said.

Police tracked him down later that night. When the officer asked him why he didn’t just move the Carlson signs over, the man said he had planned to put them up somewhere else on his way to work.

The officer researched the issue, contacted Carlson’s campaign, and then sent the man a citation on Election Day.

He’ll be sent a notice to appear for arraignment in the next week or two.

Under state law, it’s a misdemeanor to remove or destroy political signs, punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. Edmonds police didn’t use that statute, however, but cited the man for third-degree theft. The signs he allegedly took were worth less than $250. Stolen property worth more than $250 is punishable by up to five years in jail and a $10,000 fine.

Sign-stealers aren’t the only ones who risk punishment for their political fervor.

Candidates are required to take down their signs within 15 days after the election. If they don’t, code compliance officers can either call or send warning letters. If the signs still aren’t taken down, they can issue citations with fees depending on how many are left standing.

Anyone with questions or complaints about signs in their area can call their local city hall or county administration.

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