FLATLANDER

Monday, October 11, 2004

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Men videotaped vandalizing sign
Summit elections official catches culprits tearing down Bush-Cheney poster
By Marilyn Miller and Andale Gross
Beacon Journal staff writers
 

Two men who tore down a Bush-Cheney sign and urinated on it were caught on videotape by Summit County Republican officials early Friday morning.
 
The videotape shows the men sneaking into the yard of a West Market Street home and bending the sign to the ground. The men struggled to rip the sign out of the ground by shaking it and pulling it but couldn't get it off the posts, so they knocked it down. Sounds heard on the tape suggest the men urinated on the sign. They were white males, about 30 to 35 years old, well-dressed and well-groomed. They parked across the street in what police think was a foreign car, a Toyota or Honda.
 
The homeowner, Steve Kotsatos, who is also assistant to the director of the Summit County Board of Elections, called Akron police dispatchers at 10:38 a.m. Friday and told them about how his campaign sign was vandalized.
 
He said he caught the vandals on a night-vision camera he had installed the day before.
 
``A couple of days ago my neighbor's sign was set on fire with a blowtorch so I figured I might be next,'' Kotsatos said. ``This is not only criminal damaging but a safety hazard.''
 
The large 4-by-8-foot, red, white and blue sign was tipped over in Kotsatos' yard about 1 a.m. Friday.
 
John Kerry's name was scrawled across Bush's name in black marker on one side of the sign -- the work of previous vandals, Kotsatos said.
 
He discovered the bent sign at 6:45 a.m.
 
Police took a report of the incident and retrieved a copy of the videotape to review. No arrests have been made.
 
Akron police Lt. Sylvia Trundle said depending on the amount of damage -- officials estimate the sign's value at $200 to $400 -- the culprits could be charged with vandalism, but if the value is $500 or more they could face criminal damaging or criminal mischief charges. They are all misdemeanors and would carry a maximum sentence of six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.
 
Local Republicans and Democrats say the stealing and damaging of campaign signs has been worse this presidential race than in past races. In some cases, the signs have been shredded and burned.
 
According to the Summit County Republican Party, about 3,000 of the 4,000 signs the GOP has handed out supporting Bush and Cheney have been taken from yards or damaged.
 
More than 1,000 signs backing Sen. Kerry, D-Mass., and running mate Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., have been taken from yards, according to the Summit County Democratic Party.
 
Both parties deny taking part in any sign stealing.
 
Even political leaders like Summit GOP Party Chairman Alex Arshinkoff and Summit Democratic Party Finance Chairman Wayne Jones have seen their signs targeted.
 
Officials in Medina, Wayne and Portage counties also have reported thefts of campaign signs.
 
Area police departments say they investigate sign theft complaints when they get them. They say it's best when a description of the vandals or their vehicle can be given.
 
Kotsatos said he had a Bush sign in his yard four years ago and nobody bothered it. The Republican Party is looking into a possible $1,000 reward for any information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the men.

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