Judge declines to issue summonses against Cleveland, Tenn., officials in sign flap

photo A protest sign lies on the ground outside Dan Rawls' business in Cleveland, Tenn. City officials tore down the sign protesting Gov. Bill Haslam's support of the Common Core curriculum during a visit by the governor on July 11.
photo A protest sign is shown outside Dan Rawls' business in Cleveland, Tenn.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. - A Bradley County man's quest to have the Cleveland city manager and a councilman charged for ripping up his protests signs came to naught Tuesday.

Dan Rawls said Bradley County General Sessions Judge Sheridan Randolph refused to issue criminal summonses for City Manager Janice Casteel or Councilman George Poe on charges of vandalism, criminal trespass and official oppression.

After meeting with the judge to make his request, Rawls said Randolph told him that even if he signed the papers, the prosecutor's office was likely to dismiss the charges.

The two city officials ripped up protest signs Rawls posted in front of his business, Cleveland Performance Center, when Gov. Bill Haslam was appearing across the street on July 11.

Rawls said the hand-painted sign saying, "Haslam, shame on u," was to protest the governor's support for Common Core educational standards.

Poe said afterward that the signs were an embarrassment to the city and that they were on city right of way. Photos showed them near a stop sign and a utility pole, but it's hard to determine whether they are within the 6-foot right of way.

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Rawls insists they were on his property.

"This fulfills the premise that there's a different standard for average taxpayers than for elected officials and the police," Rawls said after court.

He said he is investigating whether he might have a claim in federal court that removing the signs violated his First Amendment rights.

Contact staff writer Judy Walton at jwalton@times freepress.com or 423-757-6416.