Political sign dispute ends with scuffle

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 9, 2005

KITTS HILL - The already highly emotional Ironton Municipal Court Judge's race turned ugly Friday afternoon after a dispute over a political sign.

Lawrence County Sheriff's deputies were called to investigate an altercation between supporters of Ironton Municipal Court Judge candidate Kevin J. Waldo and a state highway worker.

&#8220I'm not charging anybody,” said Lawrence County Sheriff Tim Sexton. &#8220We're going to compile the facts and do our best to avoid the innuendos and the rumors.

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&#8220Mr. Waldo is not a suspect. No one alleges that he did anything but try and stop the altercation,” Sexton said. &#8220This is a situation that is very unfortunate that it took place. Obviously, there were some tensions that took place at the site and there were some tempers and an altercation took place.”

The trouble began when several Waldo supporters erected a large campaign banner betweentwo trees, stretching the banner over State Route 141, just west of Kitts Hill.

&#8220We put it up as a surprise for Kevin,” said Tim Sanders, one of the supporters who installed the banner. &#8220He didn't know we were doing it. We were just in the process of finishing it when, by chance, he drove up.”

&#8220I was just driving by, I swear to God,” Waldo said. &#8220I didn't even know anything about (the banner).

&#8220Obviously, if I could have done it again, I'd have driven on by and waved. I'm too personable. I stopped and talked to them.”

Someone, presumably a passing motorist, called the Ohio Department of Transportation's Lawrence County administrator, Cecil Townsend.

&#8220I called the state patrol, but they were tied up with wrecks at the time, so I drive out there,” Townsend said. &#8220And I find there's a ‘Waldo for Judge' sign across the highway.”

Townsend said such a sign placement would be prohibited without special permission from ODOT.

Some kind of struggle ensued as Townsend attempted to cut the sign down.

&#8220After a few words with Waldo, I proceeded to take the sign down and some of his supporters grabbed the saw I was getting ready to use,” Townsend said. &#8220And shortly after that, there were two or three of them who came in from behind me.

&#8220One hit me on the temple and when I was going down, they commenced to beating and kicking on me,” Townsend said.

But exactly who was hit and when depends upon whom you ask.

Townsend said he was struck from behind by one of the supporters, a charge Waldo and Sanders deny.

Waldo said Townsend struck Tim Sanders with the blunt end of the saw first, during the struggle. Then Tim Sanders' son, Seth, struck Townsend.

&#8220I told him, ‘Cecil, that sign is not coming down. You're not touching that sign. The best thing for you to do is get the law here and if they saw it needs to come down, I'll take it down,'” Tim Sanders said.

&#8220Tim had gotten in (Townsend's) face and said, ‘you need to have the law out here to tell us to take it down,'” Waldo said. &#8220About that time, Cecil started cranking on that (saw) again. Tim put his hands on the saw to stop him and Cecil takes the back end of it and jacks Tim with in the left jaw.

&#8220Tim's boy, Seth, come up and says, ‘you're not going to hit my dad like that.' And he hits him, I'd say, three or four times in the face,” Waldo said.

&#8220I pulled Seth down. I grabbed him and threw him down and I said, ‘There's not going to be any more of that.'”

&#8220Kevin Waldo was just an innocent bystander,” Tim Sanders said. &#8220Me and my son are the only ones who ever laid hands on Cecil Townsend.”

As soon as the fight was over, Waldo said he left the scene.

&#8220I couldn't believe that I was going to be witness to something like this and I knew that my wonderful opponent would try and intertwine me in it somehow and that's exactly what's happened so I thought the best thing for me was to get out of there,” Waldo said.

Sexton said that Waldo's departure violated no laws.

For his part, the sheriff described the beginning of the altercation as a &#8220mutual thing” saying that some kind of struggle happened.

&#8220There were allegations that three people were hit or attempted to be hit,” Sheriff Sexton said. &#8220There were two people with injuries, though I don't consider any of them significant.”

Townsend said he suffered blows to the head requiring several stitches in addition to having his glasses broken.

&#8220What bothers me was that Kevin was there,” Townsend said. &#8220After I got there, he could have stopped what was going on.”

Townsend said, however, that he remembers Waldo pulling one of the attackers off.

Waldo said the situation would not have escalated so quickly if Townsend had communicated better.

&#8220If he'd have said something like, ‘this violates the law' we could have had a rational conversation about it,” Waldo said.

The sheriff said the report would be provided to the county prosecutor's office when complete for a review. Since Waldo, who also works as an assistant prosecutor was a witness to the incident, the sheriff said the prosecutor's could choose to turn the matter over to a special prosecutor from outside the area.

And, if any case went to court, a special judge might also be used since Waldo is challenging incumbent Ironton Municipal Court Judge O. Clark Collins Jr.

Townsend said he didn't know whether or not ODOT would file charges, but said he was &#8220in a state vehicle, on state property on state time.”

&#8220We'll have to wait and see what they want to do,” Townsend said.

&#8220My words to Mr. Waldo were, ‘Kevin, we've had this discussion before.' I've taken his signs down and I've taken Mr. Collins' signs down when they have been in violation,” Townsend said.

Waldo said he regrets the whole incident.

&#8220I'm sorry that it happened. I didn't know it was going on when I drove out there. I didn't have anything to do with them putting that banner up there. I didn't know Cecil was coming out.

&#8220When he got there, I didn't know there would be any kind of physical confrontation. When I saw that it escalated to that, I went up to them and did everything I could do within my physical power to stop it,” Waldo said. &#8220I've heard about being at the wrong place at the wrong time, but nothing like this.”

Sexton said the investigation was nearly complete.

&#8220I'm impartial in this thing. We've got a job to do and we're going to do this job,” Sexton said. &#8220Unfortunately, there's always things that happen around elections.”