Charges dismissed against man displaying Trump signs on public property
Grand Forks District Court dismissed charges against an independent U.S. House candidate last week, after he requested a jury trial for a citation he received in early August for posting political signs in a public right of way, in violation of municipal code.
City Prosecutor Kristi Pettit Venhuizen told the court Aug. 27 the city didn't believe a "technical violation" occurred on 32nd Avenue South, where Charles Tuttle has repeatedly set up signs supporting Donald Trump, as "the signs were not extended into or over a street or alley."
City ordinance says "No sign or sign structure shall be permitted within any public right-of-way or public easement," excluding newspaper stands, bus benches and litter baskets.
After Tuttle's Aug. 1 citation, Sgt. Jay Middleton of the Grand Forks Police Department said police cited Tuttle for "having political advertising on the public right of way."
"Well, obviously I think they realized they were wrong," Tuttle said Tuesday afternoon, while preparing to submit more 1,300 signatures for his House campaign. Tuttle has been traveling the state in his 2004 Escalade with a trailer full of Trump merchandise and flags supporting UND's former Fighting Sioux nickname and the U.S. military, gathering signatures for his run and selling Trump-themed merchandise. His list of stops includes Williston, Bismarck, Fargo and Minot, where in 2016 Tuttle challenged the local district court over a similar citation.
In most stops, Tuttle said police ask him to move or people question whether he has a right to be there with his signs. This weekend Tuttle referred to an incident in Williston, where he was gathering more petition signatures and he said police requested that he move.
"Just like Grand Forks realized, as long as there wasn't an extreme governmental interest, that interest being public safety normally, then there's no case," Tuttle said.
Tuttle believes police only cited him because of a bias against Donald Trump, he said, repeatedly pointing to Mayor Mike Brown's endorsement of Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., earlier this summer and phone calls Tuttle said police received while he was on 32nd, claiming Tuttle was obstructing traffic flow.
"It's Trump Derangement Syndrome," Tuttle said. "Everywhere I go, it's the same problem. People just see a Trump sign and they go ballistic, evidently."
Lt. Derik Zimmel with the Grand Forks Police Department said Tuesday he was unable to find phone calls regarding Tuttle. According to Zimmel, officers cited Tuttle because he was uncooperative with warnings police had given him June 22, after city inspections staff asked police to try moving Tuttle and his signs.
"An officer observed the violation, knew that the individual had been warned previously by officers, and was in violation," Zimmel said. "And (the officer) still tried to warn him (Tuttle) again, to move some place else. The individual was uncooperative with him, and that's why he was cited. He had been warned twice."
Before charges were dismissed, Tuttle said he had been hoping to obtain 911 calls through a court hearing. He's still interested in hearing those calls, he said Tuesday, through public information request or legal action.
"I don't want to really spend the money in each jurisdiction, I would rather just file a lawsuit for free," Tuttle said.
Tuttle said he was going to be in Bismarck Tuesday afternoon, to submit the signatures he needs for an independent U.S. House campaign. After that, Tuttle said he planned on setting up his signs and trailer on the Bismarck State College campus, where Tuttle alleged police have previously threatened to arrest them.
"I'm going over there for one hour, just to test it," he said. "My goal isn't to get arrested, my goal is to educate them of my rights, our rights."