Two Ringgold teens will take part in the final push for Ringgold’s city election on Tuesday, Nov. 5, by holding campaign signs for a mayoral candidate they stole signs from.
According to the Ringgold Police Department, two 16-year-old boys stole campaign signs belonging to mayoral candidate Paul Lee on Sept. 25 from a yard on Guyler Street.
The resident who witnessed the theft called police and gave a description of the vehicle with its tag number, reports show.
After that, officers were able to locate the vehicle in the student parking lot of Ringgold High School.
When they confronted the student, he admitted that he and a friend had indeed taken two signs to put at their homes and said sign stealing has been an ongoing joke lately among students at the school.
According to Lee, he was made aware of the situation as well and asked police to put him in touch with the parents of the two boys.
He also claims a number of his signs have been taken recently — not just the two the boys owned up to.
“I’ve had 36 signs gone missing around the high school,” Lee said. “It’s stealing, so I asked to talk to these boys’ parents.”
Lee says he spoke with the boys and their families and offered them a deal — that he wouldn’t press charges against them if they spent a couple of hours holding the signs they stole out in public near the voting precinct on Election Day.
“I told the kids that since they wanted to steal the signs — if they wanted them in their hands so bad, then they should stand out there and hold them for three hours as punishment,” Lee explained. “It was an agreement we made. The boys and their families were there, and I feel like that punishment fits the crime.”
On Monday, Oct. 14, The Catoosa County News received a letter to the editor from a woman related to one of the boys voicing her displeasure with Lee’s tact in handling the situation.
The letter accuses Lee of threatening the boys with an ultimatum, and then “strong-arming” and “bullying” them into campaigning for him.
Lee maintains the deal is more of a teaching moment aimed at showing the boys that their actions have consequences.
“I gave them two options — either I could go ahead and press misdemeanor charges for theft, or they could hold the signs they were so eager to take,” Lee said. “To me, it’s a suitable punishment. They learn something and they won’t have anything on their record. If you let them off with no punishment at all, then they might do it again.”
Per the agreement, the boys will hold Lee’s signs for a three-hour period from 4-7 p.m. on Election Day (Nov. 5) in the area of the Freedom Center voting precinct on Evitt Street.
In the mayoral race, Lee faces two opponents in incumbent Nick Millwood and Tony Hullender.
“I don’t want the boys to have a record,” Lee said. “I just want them to deal with a punishment for what they did.”
Lee ran for mayor in 2015 but was disqualified for not meeting residential requirements, which stipulate that a candidate must live within the city limits at least 12 months prior to qualifying for the election.