Lincoln police have issued a citation in the defacing of Rep. Jeff Fortenberry’s campaign signs that included placing googly eyes on the lawmaker’s picture and turning his name into a play on flatulence.
Police cited Patricia Wonch Hill, 38, on suspicion of vandalism involving Fortenberry campaign signs and a door at Sen. Deb Fischer’s office. Hill is a research assistant professor of sociology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
In a written statement to The World-Herald, Hill recounted how she was ticketed by two officers on Tuesday as she returned from lunch, but said she received only a limited explanation of the allegations.
“I learned more today about the charges against me from the news media than police shared with me when they wrote me the ticket,” Hill said in the statement. “Let me be clear, I have never destroyed any property. I look forward to my day in court when the burden will be on local authorities to prove I did.”
Police said they investigated the October vandalism incidents involving two Fortenberry signs with an estimated replacement cost of $100 and stickers that were placed on the door of Fischer’s office. Both lawmakers are Republicans.
“The LPD forensic identification unit analyzed the signs and stickers left behind and found Wonch-Hill’s fingerprints were at all three locations,” according to a police department statement.
Jeff Fortenberry’s Chief of Staff complained to UNL officials because one professor “liked” an article that displays this image. Professor states that his “like” was for the article itself and that the article was updated to include the image after he “liked” it. #NE01 pic.twitter.com/BqmdEVXXFc— Marr Williams (@MarrWilliams) November 1, 2018
One of the Fortenberry campaign signs had been altered to give his picture oversized eyes and change the o in his name to an a.
The case went viral online, particularly after another UNL professor accused Fortenberry’s chief of staff, Reyn Archer, of threatening and intimidating him for liking a photo of the vandalized sign on Facebook. That professor released an audio recording of the conversation, although Archer denied that he intended to intimidate anyone. Rather, he said he was attempting to have a dialogue.
Fortenberry issued a statement at the time stressing that he viewed the vandalism as serious matter, saying it’s disrespectful of civil discourse.
Fortenberry aides did not offer immediate comment Wednesday on the citations issued to Hill. Fischer spokeswoman Brianna Puccini said the senator appreciates the work of the Lincoln Police Department.
It’s not the first time Hill has faced legal trouble.
The Washington Post reported that a judge found her guilty last year of misdemeanor destruction of property for spraying fake blood on the steps of National Rifle Association lobbyist Chris Cox’s home in Alexandria, Virginia.
Hill appealed that verdict but she said she later pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of disorderly conduct because she wanted it over.
Hill is due in court next month on the ticket issued in Lincoln. An online “Googley eyes defense fund” had raised more than $1,500 on her behalf by late Wednesday afternoon.
In her statement, Hill said the only damage in the case appeared to have been inflicted on the congressman’s ego — except she used the altered form of his name.
In a point echoed by many supporters on social media, Hill questioned the law enforcement resources deployed in the case.
Lincoln police were standing by their work.
“We are fortunate to live in a country that not only allows free speech, but also encourages open dialogue between differing perspectives,” according to the department’s statement. “LPD is committed to fairly and impartially protecting all citizens’ right to free speech. However, we will also hold accountable those who participate in unlawful behavior.”
As for the university, UNL spokeswoman Leslie Reed provided The World-Herald with a written statement.
“We do not condone vandalism,” Reed said in the statement. “However, this is a personal legal matter based on actions of a faculty member on their own time, and they will have to take accountability for their actions based on the outcome of the legal process.”
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