Chestertown man fined for stealing Trump signs
Special from the Star Democrat
— A Maryland district court judge fined a Chestertown man $250 plus court costs for stealing Trump signs from the lawn of a private property owner.
The accused admited to taking the signs, but put up a defense during his trial and called the signs “campaign litter.”
Edward Newcomen, of Lyons Lane, was charged with theft under $100 for stealing the campaign signs and his trial was held on Thursday, Sept. 22, before Judge Frank M. Kratovil Jr.
After hearing testimony on both sides, the judge discussed Newcomen’s guilt but ruled probation before judgment, noting that Newcomen had no criminal record and no jailable traffic offenses.
According to the Queen Anne’s County State’s Attorney Lance Richardson, the probation before judgement means Newcomen committed the act, but it strikes out the guilty finding so he doesn’t have a criminal record for it. There is no guilty conviction.
The judge fined Newcomen $500 with $250 suspended, but, with court costs, he was assessed $300, which he paid immediately following the judge’s decision. The judge also ordered Newcomen to have 18 months unsupervised probation, obey all laws, and have no contact with the property owner or be near the property where the signs were stolen.
The judge told Newcomen that he can’t appeal the court’s decision if he accepts the deal. Newcomen accepted the condition.
If Newcomen violates the probation over the 18-month time frame, he’s subject to up to 90 days in jail and the remaining $250 of the fine that the judge suspended, Richardson said.
Richardson prosecuted the case and in court referred to Newcomen as a “likable gentlemen,” but stressed that theft can’t be tolerated.
Newcomen chose to not have a lawyer defend him and, instead, represented himself. He took the stand in his own defense.
Newcomen admitted to taking three Trump campaign signs from Samuel Owings’ property on Pond Lane, Chestertown, on June 30. The property where the signs were taken is in Queen Anne’s County, meaning the District Court in Queen Anne’s County is required to hear the case.
In court, Newcomen argued that the campaign signs weren’t legally placed and he considered them “campaign litter” and taking
them was a “prank.”
Newcomen quoted the Queen Anne’s County Bylaws, which says a political sign may not be erected more than 70 days prior to the election in which it pertains. That would put the date allowed for the political signs in August, Newcomen said. But he was reminded in court that there was also a primary. Newcomen said, after the trial, that the primary was in April, and the signs should have been taken down afterward.
In court testimony, Newcomen also cited the National Electrical Safety Code that says it’s an offense to attach anything on a support structure without the concurrence of the owner. Owings had put a game camera on a utility pole.
The judge ruled Newcomen’s arguments irrelevant and inadmissible because they weren’t the question before the court.
Newcomen said he took the signs as a “prank.” He said he planned on putting the signs on the lawn of a neighbor who was a Clinton supporter.
Newcomen, who calls himself “a political atheist,” made statements after the trial. When asked about the judge’s decision, Newcomen claimed the prosecution was politically motivated.
“Look at the time they spent to prosecute me. It’s political. It’s clearly political,” he said.
Owings offered Newcomen a deal to avoid going to trial, according to both sides. Before the trial, Owings said he earlier offered to drop the charges if New- comen would wear a Trump T-shirt and wave Trump signs on a street corner. Newcomen confirmed the deal was offered, but he instead proceeded to trial.
Owings said he mounted the camera on the pole after his political signs kept disappearing from his property. When the signs first started disappearing, he talked to the sheriff’s office who told him the police needed proof. Owings then put up the camera on the utility pole and the camera took pictures of people taking the signs. The sheriff’s office posted on Facebook pictures of the people. Police received a tip that one person was Newcomen.
According to the statement of charges filed in court, a sheriff’s deputy confronted Newcomen at his house and he confessed to stealing the signs and apologized. He gave the signs back to the deputy who turned them back over to Owings.
Tim Kingston, chairman of the Queen Anne’s County Republican Central Committee, attended the trial and commented about the judge’s decision afterward.
“When you walk on someone’s property and take their property without permission, it’s serious. Whether you agree with the views of the property owner or disagree, you don’t have the right to steal,” he said.
Owings said he didn’t know Newcomen before the incident, but recognized him in a letter to the editor in a local newspaper. Owings in his testimony said other people were also photographed taking the signs.
A camera on a utility pole caught Edward Newcomen, of Chestertown, stealing Trump signs in June from a property on Pond Lane, which is in Queen Anne’s County, but is considered Chestertown. Newcomen confirmed the picture is of him.