COVINGTON -- Covington mayoral candidate Bobby Sigman has been arrested in connection with the alleged theft of campaign signs belonging to his opponent, Ronnie Johnston, according to the Covington Police Department.
A press release issued by the CPD states that Johnston had complained that yard signs he had distributed had been stolen from various locations throughout Covington.
"Our investigation gathered intelligence that indicated Mr. Bobby Sigman (mayoral candidate) was paying individuals to remove Johnston mayoral candidate yard signs from properties in the Covington area," said Capt. Ken Malcom in the printed press release issued following Sigman's arrest late Wednesday.
Malcom said an "undercover operation" was conducted by the CPD which uncovered the fact that "Sigman did purchase more than 50 Ronnie Johnston mayoral candidate yard signs from an individual acting in an undercover capacity that had been stolen from yards in the Covington area."
After the signs were allegedly purchased, the CPD conducted a traffic stop on Sigman and escorted him to CPD headquarters.
"There were a number of signs in Mr. Sigman's possession when we conducted the traffic stop. He met an individual and there was a transaction that took place where Mr. Sigman purchased the signs," Malcom said.
During his interrogation, Sigman allegedly made false statements concerning the signs.
"According to detectives, Mr. Sigman, after having read Miranda Warning, made false statements about his involvement in this incident," Malcom said.
Sigman was charged with making false statements within a political subdivision, theft by taking and criminal trespass and was booked into the Newton County Detention Center. All charges against him are misdemeanors.
Malcom said more charges and arrests could follow.
The Covington Police Department is asking that any individual who may have had a Ronnie Johnston mayoral candidate yard sign removed from their property to please contact the Covington Police Department Criminal Investigations Division immediately at 770-786-7605.
"We're asking for our citizens' help ... if you had a Ronnie Johnston mayoral candidate sign in your yard and it has been stolen, from your property, we're asking you to contact the Covington Police and advise us of your name and the location of the sign that was taken," Malcom said. "Someone might see that their Ronnie Johnston sign was taken and not think anything about it, but we need them to call us. Don't call Mr. Johnston, call us. Each sign removal is a separate count. This case is still under investigation and it is important that we know who the victims are."
Sigman denied the charges against him and accused police of planting the evidence. Asked why police would plant evidence, Sigman responded, "I don't know. Why would they spend time setting up a police operation on political signs when there are more important issues in Covington that need to be addressed?"
CPD Chief Stacey Cotton said this case, as with all cases investigated by his officers, was generated due to a citizen complaint.
"With the theft of the signs, they are property that was removed from people's property. We're obligated to listen to the victims and investigate the crimes," Cotton said.
He said the investigation led to the people who were involved in the removal of the signs.
"They willingly cooperated with our detectives in proving Mr. Sigman was behind the removal of a number of signs," Cotton said. "We're still trying to see the extent of how many signs, but there were well over 50 signs. The volume of the signs that have been recovered so far in the case proves this was not some typical, political removal of a few signs that occurs during a normal campaign. This was a planned and concerted effort. Through Mr. Sigman's own admissions and a consultation with the District Attorney's Office, Mr. Sigman was arrested and charged accordingly."
Cotton was quick to defend his department against accusations of impropriety.
"Once this investigation is concluded and more information can be released, it will be clear there was no set up, no planting of any evidence. That's utterly ridiculous," he said. "The Covington Police Department prides itself on being a professional police department and because of this hot topic issue and the implications surrounding the subject, we would not have investigated this or made an arrest without solid concrete evidence, including witness statements as well as Mr. Sigman's statements."
Sigman said he has no plans to drop out of the race.
"My race is going full speed ahead. I am innocent. I have done nothing wrong. I have not stolen no signs whatsoever," he said. "This is just nothing but politically motivated all the way. I am running ahead of Mr. Johnston and the only way I could have lost is for them to come up with something ridiculous like this. The Covington power structure will do anything in the world to keep me from being elected. I intend to prove them wrong and I still have faith in the people of Covington."
Johnston said he had noticed numerous campaign signs missing in recent weeks and had been contacted by supporters reporting stolen signs. Johnston said the signs cost about $6 each. Initially, Johnston said he ignored the matter, but when a supporter told him she had seen people taking up the signs and followed them home, he said he contacted police.
"At that point, it was out of my hands," he said, adding that he was unaware of the undercover operation his complaint initiated until the news broke Thursday morning.
"I'm very saddened by the whole thing," he said. "I'm sad for his family. I have met so many awesome and wonderful and loving people in the city. I'm just sad at the overall situation. We need to be focused on the real issues."
Staff Reporter Crystal Tatum contributed to this story.