Sign theft causing early election drama in Puyallup

Staff writerOctober 10, 2013 

A candidate for Puyallup City Council and a sitting council member have filed reports with Puyallup police alleging supporters of an opposing campaign have stolen political yard signs.

Although accusations of sign theft are commonplace during election cycles, Puyallup’s incidents have a modern twist — photographic evidence.

The pictures, however, have not led police to any suspects.

Chris McNutt, who’s running against Julie Door for District 3 Position 2, filed a police report over theft of campaign signs and a motion-sensor camera on Wildwood Park Drive near 38th Avenue Southeast.

McNutt says he planted game cameras, typically used by hunters for scouting, that produced blurry still photographs. He says they show at least two suspects on two occasions stealing his signs and two of the cameras.

One of the missing cameras belongs to Councilman Steve Vermillion, who has filed a separate police report.

McNutt and his supporters, including Vermillion, believe the suspects pictured have close ties to Door’s campaign.

“Although these acts are not representative of her personally, they are representative of her campaign,” McNutt said.

Puyallup police spokesman Scott Engle said there’s no evidence to support McNutt’s claims.

“There are no verifiable suspects,” he said

Engle said a detective has interviewed those accused by McNutt, including a woman related to a Door supporter. The officer concluded the images McNutt provided do not support the claims.

Door said she strongly believes her supporters have nothing to do with the missing signs.

“I’m running a clean campaign,” she said. “I have good, hard-working people on my campaign.”

If her supporters were responsible for theft, she would not tolerate it, she said.

McNutt said he’s missing 184 of 305 signs and estimates it has cost his campaign roughly $700. He said the disappearances have gotten worse and indicate a coordinated effort.

“Once it became apparent this would become a huge problem, I started tracking it,” he said Wednesday. “In the last week, it’s been rampant.”

Accusations of sign theft during election season are common, but catching perpetrators is rare, often due to a lack of witnesses or hard evidence. An exception was a strange 2004 case in Tacoma when a landfill worker alertly called a County Council candidate’s campaign to say someone was dumping his signs, which had been reported missing.

Engle said the amount of time Puyallup officers spend investigating political sign thefts depends on the circumstances, such as the number of signs stolen. Many times, candidates don’t file reports but contact police so officers can keep an eye out while patrolling, he said.

“It happens every election season,” Engle said. “It is not a high priority for us.”

Door has also reported sign theft but has not accused anyone of the crime. She filed a report after signs were taken from her neighbor’s property, and turned over security camera footage.

Door told The News Tribune she only filed the report because it involved trespassing. She doesn’t plan to investigate on her own or name possible suspects.

“They have the evidence. They are the experts,” she said of police.

McNutt acknowledged other crimes should take precedence over sign thefts. He said he’s mostly concerned about how the missing signs will affect his campaign ahead of the Nov. 5 election.

At this point, Engle doesn’t expect charges will be filed but said the investigation is ongoing.

Kari Plog: 253-597-8682
kari.plog@thenewstribune.com
@KariPlog

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