Hedrick, PCO Liberty Alliance set trap for sign thieves

Man caught on camera taking campaign sign

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

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Fed up with signs for their local precinct committee officer races being stolen, the members of the PCO Liberty Alliance took matters into their own hands this week, catching a suspected thief in the act.

The Republican PCO races have been particularly contentious this year, with the formation of the PCO Liberty Alliance, made up of mostly Ron Paul, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich supporters. PCOs choose county party officers, along with other grass-roots duties.

Watch the video

Check out David Hedrick's video at the bottom of this story.

The "Don't tread on me" folks got tired of candidate Lynda Wilson's signs going missing, so they set up a game camera pointed directly at a sign they posted on Northeast 164th Avenue. It didn't take long before they got something.

Former congressional candidate David Hedrick decided to check the trap at 5:30 a.m. Tuesday, and caught a man snagging the sign on his bike as he rode by. The footage, as well as what happens next, was chronicled in a YouTube video Hedrick posted later in the day.

Hedrick chases the thief down in his car and, while still filming, calls out the window: "What's wrong with Lynda Wilson as a PCO? Maybe she's too conservative? Maybe the establishment doesn't like her?"

"Go (expletive) yourself," the man responds.

It goes back and forth for a minute, with Hedrick using by far the more respectful language. Hedrick then allows the man to ride off.

Hedrick then discovers a whole stash of signs, in what he says in the video "can only be described as a graveyard where conservative signs go to die."

Hedrick retrieved the signs from and returned them to Wilson, who put them back up. But apparently the thief "brazenly returned," stealing all the signs again.

The PCO Liberty Alliance handed over the video and other information to police, who apparently contacted the man and took a report. That report is being sent to the city attorney's office, which will consider charges, Vancouver Police spokeswoman Kim Kapp said Wednesday.

Police declined to identify the man, who appears to be in his 50s and in good physical shape.

Kapp said Wilson's sign was actually placed illegally on city property. Political signs are only permitted on private property, and then only with the owner's consent.

"We did contact the subject identified as the person who removed the sign," Kapp said. "He lives in neighborhood, and he told our officer that he was aware that the sign was unlawfully replaced and he removed it."

Hedrick said that while the "bait" sign for the camera was on city property, all of Wilson's other signs — which were also torn down — were on private property.

As for the confrontation, police would have preferred that Hedrick not follow the man or confront him, and that he drive with both hands on the wheel, Kapp said.

"Driving a car, and filming out the window, we would really not recommend that type of behavior," she said. "Even more, confronting somebody, especially who is being accused of committing a crime, confrontations are not advised."

Hedrick said he needed to follow the man in order to give police good information. "They're not really going to dedicate resources to coming out and catching a sign thief," Hedrick said.

Kapp acknowledged the low-level crime is not a high police priority.

It's not the first time alleged sign thieves have been run down while caught in the act. In 2008, Matt Swindell, a Ridgefield city councilman running for county commissioner, reached speeds of up to 110 mph as he and a few supporters chased an SUV full of teens they caught destroying and stealing his campaign signs. The chase ended with Swindell blocking the boys into a private driveway. Swindell declined to press charges after deputies arrived.

Hedrick said he took pains to make sure the situation with the suspected thief didn't elevate, including by backing off when they reached busier streets.

"I have experience with being cool under fire," he said. "I wanted to make sure there wasn't any sort of serious confrontation."

And as a former candidate who has also seen his signs vandalized, as every candidate does, Hedrick said his group wants to make sure people know there may be consequences.

"We wanted to send a message too … people need to know that there may be a camera," he said. "It might deter someone."

Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542; http://www.twitter.com/col_cityhall;andrea.damewood@columbian.com.