Allegations that political signs in Spokane Valley have been stolen and damaged have flown back and forth this election season, and now two men have been cited for doing so.
The citations for damaging and removing campaign signs came on Sept. 5, after Spokane Valley Councilman Arne Woodard recorded multiple men on a camera he set up and turned it over to law enforcement.
Spokane County Sheriff’s deputies have been investigating sign theft and damage since August, after several local candidates reported issues with their campaign signs, which were on private property.
Woodard set up motion-activated cameras near a few of his signs so he could provide “bullet proof” evidence to law enforcement that his signs were being taken.
Woodard said he lost 41 signs over the course of the campaign.
One of the men arrested, Tyler J. Wilson, 23, told law enforcement he took the signs down because they irritated his grandfather, Lawrence J. Wilson, 70, who was also arrested for damaging signs. Tyler Wilson told deputies they did not take down the signs for political reasons, but because they were blocking his grandfather’s view of the road.
Woodward said taking another person’s signs is illegal, no matter the reason, and that he has more cameras monitoring his signs.
“I don’t know why people steal and destroy other people’s property,” Woodard said. “If you disagree with me, how you can deal with it is get your candidate elected.”
In the video Woodard provided, Lawrence Wilson can apparently be seen tearing one sign in half. Additional photos showed him and two other men approach the signs, Woodard said. In those images, Tyler Wilson appeared to dismantle a four-sign display that included rebar and toss it in a vacant lot.
Deputies found Lawrence Wilson at a nearby residence and questioned him about damaging signs. He told them he damaged the signs and said he didn’t know the other two men who were with him in photos.
When detectives told him there were photos contradicting his story and that he could be charged with a crime for lying to police, he reportedly said, “I don’t care, I’m 70 years old. What are you going to do to me?”
When detectives went back to Wilson’s home, both men who were seen in the footage with him arrived at the same time. Law enforcement cited Lawrence Wilson with two counts of malicious mischief, two counts of removing or defacing a political advertisement and one count of making a false or misleading statement to a public servant. Tyler Wilson was cited for one count of malicious mischief and one count of removing or defacing a political advertisement. All of the charges are misdemeanors.
The third man, who was not seen in photos removing signs, said he didn’t help damage the signs, and he wasn’t cited.
City Council candidates Bo Tucker and Michelle Rasmussen’s signs were also damaged during the same incident.
Tucker said the two men could have reached out to them to talk about the signs if they were obstructing their view and said several of his signs have been damaged during the campaign.
Rasmussen said she’s also lost several signs and that one of the signs ripped up during the incident was hers.
“It’s unfortunate people feel the need to do that,” she said.
Fellow City Council candidates Tim Hattenburg and Lance Gurel said they also have had signs damaged or stolen, though not as many as Councilwoman Brandi Peetz, who is running for re-election.
Peetz said about 200 of her signs have been damaged or stolen during the campaign and that she’s filed dozens of police reports. She said several of her signs are defaced with profane, gendered language. Two were damaged Thursday morning. She said she was glad two people were caught and cited but said there are still many community members defacing signs.
“Regardless if you disagree with somebody, it’s not right to touch somebody’s signs,” she said.
Mark Gregory, a spokesman for the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office, said the signs had been dumped in the 24th Avenue and Sullivan Road area in Spokane Valley. He said campaign sign theft and vandalism are normally a problem during campaigns, but law enforcement doesn’t usually have enough evidence to arrest anyone.
He said stealing signs, even if it isn’t for political reasons, is still illegal.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s politically motivated or not, you can’t do it,” Gregory said.
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