A well-known Oil City businessman appeared in district court Monday in connection with an incident last month in which a political sign was damaged.
Dennis Clifford, owner of Clifford’s Carpets and Rug Outlet on East First Street, was charged in early October with a summary count of criminal mischief – damage property after police observed surveillance footage that showed him picking up a Donald Trump sign in front of a home in the 200 block of West Third Street before throwing it to the ground.
Vernon Aurand, who lives at the home, testified during Monday’s summary trial for Clifford before district judge Andrew Fish.
While being questioned by David Ragon, a patrolman with the Oil City Police Department, Aurand said the first Trump sign he had placed in his yard was stolen, so he decided to install a video camera to monitor the new one he put out. Aurand said the video camera captured the footage of Clifford walking up to the sign, picking it up and throwing it to the ground around the time of Oct. 8-9.
Clifford questioned Aurand why the same sign remains in his yard with no apparent damage, and Aurand said he was able to repair the tears with tape and bend the wire frame back into the correct position.
The video of Clifford was shown to Clifford and Fish during Monday’s proceedings.
Ragon said when he was first notified of the incident around 12:23 p.m. on Oct. 9, the footage was shown to him at the Aurand home, and both parties recognized Clifford right away.
Ragon also said there has been a rash of people tampering with political signs and this was one of the few cases where there was tangible evidence of who was responsible.
When Clifford was given the opportunity to address the court Monday, he admitted to pulling the sign out of the ground, but he said he let it hit the ground instead of throwing it. He also emphasized that he did not go onto the Aurands’ property to touch the sign.
Clifford’s reasoning behind his actions was that he had reached a breaking point after a video of Trump and Billy Bush making vulgar comments about woman was released by the media.
“I couldn’t believe someone would still have a Trump sign in their yard after all of that,” Clifford said.
Clifford said he considered the act more of a peaceful protest than anything else.
“No harm, no foul in my opinion,” he said.
Clifford asked Fish to dismiss the charge, but Fish found him guilty.
Fish said there is a possibility that there was no intent to damage the sign, but he said Clifford had no right to touch another person’s property.
“I feel it was an error on your part,” Fish said to Clifford.
The maximum fine for the offense is $300, but Fish ordered Clifford to pay a $50 fine plus other costs.