Warner Robins resident arrested for trashing signs in right of way

chwright@macon.comJuly 7, 2012 

WARNER ROBINS -- A man whose girlfriend ran into trouble removing signs in the right of way in Macon was arrested last week for doing the same thing in Warner Robins.

“It was very humiliating,” said Joseph Howard, 54.

Howard, of Warner Robins, said state and local laws gave him every right to pick up 42 signs in the public right of way. Police saw it differently, as did one of the signs’ owners.

The husband of Houston County Solicitor General Amy Smith told police she wanted to file charges against Howard, according to a police report. Houston County Magistrate Judge Angela Sammons issued a warrant on the charge of theft by taking.

“I turned myself in at the police department,” Howard said. “I was handcuffed and put in the back of a truck with no air conditioning and driven across the county.”

The signs were valued at $92, according to the police report. Smith, who is running for re-election against Carl Veline, said Friday she did not want to talk about the case because “it’s my understanding it’s an ongoing investigation.”

Howard said he has decided to extend the work girlfriend Cherry Horton began in Macon about a year ago to clean up the community by throwing away signs they consider litter.

“They are a distraction to drivers, and distracted driving is dangerous,” Howard said.

Terry Wood, the city marshal who oversees code enforcement, said code enforcement picks up illegal signs in public rights of way each week.

Wood said code enforcement was not involved in Howard’s arrest. The Warner Robins Police Department did not return messages for comment.

Bibb County sheriff’s deputies arrested Horton in April for picking up signs from the rights of way. The charges were later dropped because the Bibb County solicitor general’s office, which handles misdemeanors, could not substantiate them.

“I don’t think that the taking of a sign from a public area constituted a theft by taking,” said Mike Sorkey, an assistant solicitor general, at the time.

Howard said he wants the same done in Houston County, as well as a refund for the $520 paid for bail and a paperwork fee at the police department. A court date is scheduled for Sept. 6 in Houston County State Court.

Georgia code says signs cannot be placed within a public right of way, and anyone violating the code “shall be punished the same as littering,” a misdemeanor.

Warner Robins ordinances take the state law a bit further, mandating signs be 5 feet beyond the right of way.

Howard said he checked online to make sure the signs were indeed in the right of way and took pictures of every sign before picking it up. His intention was to take them to the landfill, according to the police report.

At the time officers found Howard in the 100 block of South Corder Road, Howard had 42 signs in the flatbed of his truck. They advertised small businesses, yard sales, found and missing dogs and political candidates.

Twenty-three belonged to Smith. Howard said he wasn’t targeting her and has e-mailed her in the past with his concerns.

“They were in the public right of way,” he said.

Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.

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