Samuel Edmund Coffey said he isn’t sure what possessed him to steal two election campaign signs in broad daylight last weekend, but the 72-year-old Bedford County native is facing two petit larceny charges stemming from his act of civil disobedience.
Bedford County Sheriff Michael Brown announced at a Friday news conference Coffey was charged with stealing two signs supporting Tammy Parker. Parker represents District 7, is chairwoman of the board of supervisors and is running in the June 9 Republican primary against District 7 school board representative Kevin Willis.
Investigators identified Coffey as a suspect in the case when they received a phone-call tip Thursday. Coffey, of Lankford Mill Road, admitted to investigators he stole the signs on Centerville and Goode roads. He was not arrested.
“I was headed to Forest last Saturday and I saw those two signs; and the county supervisors — several of them, not just Tammy Parker, but she’s in my district — but several of them do not listen to the will of the people,” Coffey said in a phone interview Friday.
Coffey said he tried to be active and tuned-in to local politics over the years, but he feels the board of supervisors isn’t in touch with its constituents.
“The reason I haven’t been to any meetings lately is because nobody listens, except very few. They do what they want. … When the citizens aren’t listened to, there’s no democracy; and maybe if we can get new supervisors, we can get a bit of democracy,” Coffey said.
When asked if stealing peoples’ political signs was democratic in nature, Coffey noted his position was “counter intuitive, but I guess just grabbing those two signs was a matter of irritation.”
The cost of the signs — which Coffey recycled — didn’t cross his mind when he grabbed them from the side of the road. Coffey said he was unaware candidates pay for their signs until authorities informed him Thursday.
“Well, I was told that. … I just grabbed those two and didn’t even think about it,” he said.
A total of 13 Tammy Parker signs of various sizes were reported stolen in the town and county over the last several weeks, Brown said.
“I’ve spoken with other candidates and they all have signs missing,” he said.
The department plans to use cameras in areas with contested political races where people might be tempted to steal signs. Brown encouraged residents to notify authorities if they see someone taking a sign that isn’t on a road right-of-way.
“It costs these candidates money, and stealing is stealing. Some people say, ‘Well, it’s just a sign.’ It’s not just a sign. It’s the theft of a sign,” Brown said.
Coffey said he regrets stealing the signs. “It seems to have not only cost [Parker] her signs, it caused a lot of hassle, too,” he said.