Hamilton County school board candidate and former Chattanooga City Councilman Larry Grohn is scheduled to appear in court for allegedly stealing $710 worth of campaign signs belonging to the Democratic candidate for district attorney, John Allen Brooks, but Grohn says he didn't steal them.
Grohn, a Republican of East Ridge, told the Chattanooga Times Free Press in a text message he was moving Brooks' signs after they had been placed in front of his own.
According to a sworn Chattanooga police affidavit in support of his arrest, Grohn allegedly removed six of Brooks' campaign signs near the area of 400 S. Moore Road on June 10. Grohn said he removed two.
"Most of my signs went up between April 29 and May 6," Grohn said. "The signs for Mr. Brooks started going up around East Ridge about June 6-8th. The two signs in question were placed directly in front of mine."
Brooks said he wasn't sure exactly how many signs were taken.
"There's a lot of work in putting them up. But I would really like to ask Mr. Grohn why he took any of them, whether it was two or six," Brooks said in a phone call.
Katie Perkins, Grohn's Democratic opponent for the District 8 school board seat in the August general election, reported witnessing Grohn placing the signs in the back of his truck while driving through the area, according to the affidavit. District 8 includes Brainerd Hills, Concord and East Ridge. Brooks will take on Republican Coty Wamp in the same election.
"I was driving home when I saw Mr. Larry Grohn removing a John Allen Brooks campaign sign from alongside North Terrace Road. Being on friendly terms, I stopped and reminded him that a candidate shouldn't move other candidates' signs in a bit of a joking manner," Perkins said in an email to the Times Free Press.
When Perkins confronted Grohn, he told her he was doing Brooks a favor, she said.
"I called my campaign manager shortly after and told her about the encounter because I thought it was odd," she said in the email.
Grohn said he didn't tell Perkins he was doing Brooks a favor but said he intended to return the signs to Brooks.
Perkins' campaign manager, Elizabeth Baker, alerted Brooks' campaign manager, Al Douglas, to the incident, Baker said in a phone call. Douglas called the police and reported the signs as stolen, he said in a phone call. He told police Brooks had not asked Grohn to remove the signs and that he observed six signs were missing.
Perkins also gave a statement to the police, according to the affidavit.
Later that day, Douglas reached out via text to Grohn, who responded by saying he had some of Brooks' signs.
"I have two of Mr. Brooks' signs. Should I deliver them to his office?" Grohn said in the text message obtained by the Times Free Press. "Maybe you should have a conversation with the person or persons putting up his signs."
Grohn said he then called Brooks' office to get an address to return the signs.
"I told him there was no worry about returning them, that police have already been contacted for the theft," Douglas said.
Grohn said Douglas told him he had "been caught" and a police report was filed.
"With that, I decided to do the 'fair' thing and put the two signs back up at the same locations. Now everyone's signs are visible and not blocked," Grohn said.
Based on Perkins' statement and Grohn's texts saying that he was in possession of Brooks' signs, police issued a theft of property warrant on Grohn, according to the police affidavit.
The Hamilton County General Sessions Court calendar shows Grohn is scheduled to appear before Judge Gerald Webb.
"Ridiculous waste of my time and taxpayer money," Grohn said of having to go to court. "My court date is July 22, but all the General Sessions judges and the (district attorneys) recused themselves. I have to appear in any (other) county."
Hamilton County Election Commission officials told the Times Free Press that should Grohn be convicted of theft, he is still eligible to run for public office as it would be considered a misdemeanor. If charged, under state law, he could see penalties of up to 11 months and 29 days of incarceration and a $2,500 fine.