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Authorities probe possible campaign sign thefts

Stash discovered during response to domestic dispute

POSTED: July 22, 2012 10:20 p.m.
Autumn Vetter/

Campaign signs are seen displayed at the Owens residence Thursday.

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The Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the discovery of more than 30 campaign signs for various candidates found piled up at a local woman’s home.

Some candidates believe the signs at the home of Forsyth County resident Joni Owens may have been stolen.

However, no charges have been filed at this time, Sheriff Ted Paxton said.

“I would ask that everyone give us the opportunity for the process to take place and that a very comprehensive and proper investigation is done on this to identify specifically what, if any, violations of law were committed and the appropriate action will be taken,” Paxton said.

The agency did not have a time frame for completion of the investigation.

Owens, a former president of the local chamber of commerce, did not respond to phone calls requesting an interview.

An incident report from July 13 states that deputies responded to a call about a domestic dispute at Owens’ residence and discovered the pile of signs outside the home.

According to the report, “Owens said she removed the signs from her property on [Highway] 369.”

Owens’ husband, Schiffley Owens, told deputies that she had been “stealing political signs … and that she was working for two campaigns,” the report states.

The report does not specify the campaigns to which Owens’ husband was referring.

Owens gave $250 to Paxton’s campaign in late June, and her home’s front yard had signs displayed for Paxton and Jack Murphy, who is running for state Senate.

Murphy has stated Owens is not employed by or volunteering with his campaign.

Paxton said Owens had been working as a paid commissioned fundraiser for his campaign for a few weeks from mid-June to early July, but she was not at the time of the reported incident.

“Our agreement with her has been terminated,” he said. “I’m not going to get into any other issues concerning why we did that.”

The report indicates the candidates’ signs seized by deputies as evidence included: nine for Steve Voshall, six for Lauren McDonald, six for Harold Bennett, four for Duane Piper, two for Patrick Bell; and one each for Charles Meagher, Bill Mulrooney, Geoff Duncan, Cindy Mills and Mary Beth Pais. Mark Musselwhite, a candidate for coroner, said he also retrieved four of his signs from those collected. Those signs were not listed in the incident report.

Several of the candidates went to the sheriff’s office north precinct this week to collect their signs, do interviews and request an investigation.

McDonald said he was “disappointed” to hear that the signs were found at the home of someone he’s known a long time.

While he didn’t know how his six signs had gotten to her home, McDonald said he’d received an “abrasive” phone call from Owens a few weeks prior that led him to suspect she’d taken them.

“She said she’d ripped up signs and threw them in the woods,” he said, adding that Owens told him the signs had been on right-of-way or private property.

Paxton said signs cannot be placed in the right-of-way, and proper procedure is to notify the entity with that property to remove the sign.

In the case of private property, signs cannot be placed without the permission of the owner or an agent, and those people can also remove any unauthorized signs, Paxton said.

According to the incident report, deputies responded to the Owens’ residence on two occasions on July 13 in response to domestic complaints. On the second occasion, around 6:25 p.m., dispatch was told a woman was “waving a gun” and fighting with her husband.

Paxton said when deputies arrived they did find a gun in the home, but it was not in the possession of anyone at the time. No domestic charges were filed against either party, and both have since filed for temporary protective orders against the other, according to Forsyth County court records.

Paxton said because it was a domestic call the department could not release specific information about the incident.

 

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