LINCOLN — Prosecutors have dropped one of two vandalism charges against a university researcher accused of defacing Rep. Jeff Fortenberry’s campaign signs.
The researcher, Patricia Wonch Hill, 39, showed up Monday in Lancaster County Court to face two misdemeanor charges, but one charge was dismissed. Judge Joseph Dalton said the charge could be refiled later.
Wonch Hill, who is in the sociology department at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is accused of putting “googly eyes” on a couple of campaign signs that promoted Fortenberry, who represents eastern Nebraska’s 1st District in the U.S. House of Representatives.
At least one of the Fortenberry signs had been altered so that it read “Fartenberry.”
The charge associated with the Fortenberry allegation was dropped. Wonch Hill said this was because Fortenberry declined to show up for the trial. Prosecutor Jessica Kerkhofs said in emails Monday night that “we were having scheduling difficulties” involving Fortenberry.
Remaining in place against Wonch Hill is a charge that she put stickers on Sen. Deb Fischer’s office door in Lincoln. The UNL faculty member has denied that she did that.
Fortenberry said through a spokesman Monday: “I think the point is made. This never was about a silly sign. It’s about whether a university educator can vandalize our community with impunity.”
Wonch Hill said Monday evening in a text that she wondered if the police who worked the case knew that Fortenberry sought “just to ‘make a point’ and not follow through on any charges.”
She added: “Fortenberry seems to believe his bruised ego is what his community should spend public resources on — this would be troubling if he were a private citizen, but it is absolutely unacceptable for an elected official to abuse public resources in this way.”
The Fischer stickers case was delayed, with the exception of the testimony of one witness, until a hearing set for Nov. 1.
Former Fischer campaign manager Allison Bedell testified Monday that someone had placed two “Betsy Riot” stickers on Fischer’s office door in Lincoln last October. Someone also taped to the door a sign that suggested that Fischer loves rapists.
Betsy Riot is an activist group in Lincoln. The rapist claim evidently referred to Fischer’s support of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who has been accused of past sexual misconduct. The U.S. Senate confirmed Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court a couple of weeks before the stickers were placed on Fischer’s office door.
Bedell testified that she notified the Lincoln Police Department of the presence of the stickers Oct. 21.
Wonch Hill’s attorney, Marc Delman, said Bedell must not have felt physically threatened because she didn’t call 911.
“I didn’t think it warranted calling 911,” Bedell said.
As Delman cross-examined Bedell, he asked whether she would call the police if someone had merely taped an informative note to the door. Bedell said no.
Delman also said that when a police officer removed the stickers, there was no damage to the door.
Bedell said that she and her staff were afraid that a brick would be hurled through the office door and that people stayed late many nights to guard against this. Bedell said a brick had been thrown against another office door of the Republican Party.
After the hearing, Wonch Hill said, “I would never throw a brick through a window.” She said the case against her involved “a lot of local resources ... that could be going to violent crimes.”
Lincoln police said they have linked Wonch Hill to the googly eyes and stickers through fingerprints.
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