The Pikeville Police Department is investigating after a political campaign sign was vandalized over the weekend.

Pikeville Police Chief Chris Edmonds confirmed to the News-Express that the department is investigating the damage caused by an as-yet identified person to a campaign sign for Pike Family Court Judge candidate Justin Cory Hamilton located along U.S. 23 just south of the Pikeville city limits. Edmonds said a suspect has not yet been identified, but investigators are continuing to probe the case and review surveillance video footage of the incident.

The incident happened just before 4:30 a.m. Saturday. The sign, a large banner placed on a fence at a mobile home dealership, was cut down and destroyed.       Hamilton told the News-Express that the sign had been placed just the day before.

Edmonds asked for the public’s assistance in the case.

“The footage doesn’t give us a good picture of the individual responsible or their vehicle, so we’re asking the public to help by providing any information they may have about the incident.”

The incident is the latest in a continuing controversy involving campaign signs in the family court judge’s race.

According to court documents, Hamilton’s father, Jimmy Hamilton was served with a criminal complaint summons on Oct. 21 for allegedly stealing a campaign sign for his son’s opponent, current Family Court Judge Kent Varney. The elder Hamilton was accused of removing a Varney campaign sign from an area near the Thompson Road-Cassidy Boulevard intersection and was charged with a misdemeanor count of theft.

According to court documents, a witness told police he saw Jimmy Hamilton “face to face” during the course of the theft and that the elder Hamilton had a campaign sign sticking out of the bed of his truck. Justin Cory Hamilton told the News-Express that the sign his father removed was one for failed governor candidate Robert Goforth. The judicial candidate accused Varney’s campaign of orchestrating the controversy around the sign theft.

Varney did not directly respond to the accusation, saying Justin Cory Hamilton “managed to both falsely accuse me and fail to show regret for the allegations made by law enforcement against his father working in the interest of his campaign.”

In a Facebook post on Oct. 23, Justin Cory Hamilton blasted Varney over the situation. In response to the post, Pike County Attorney Howard Keith Hall criticized the Pikeville Police Department for its handling of the investigation and the charge filed against Jimmy Hamilton.

“Amazing that a police department would go out of their jurisdiction to influence a countywide election by filing charges in the closing days of an election,” Hall wrote in the post. “If Varney wins now, it’s a tainted victory that will always be remembered as the time the victory that was altered by the folks in Pikeville.”

In the post, Hall also recalled a situation earlier this year when a Pikeville resident was cited for an ordinance violation for having a Justin Hamilton campaign sign posted in front of his house in downtown Pikeville. The city rescinded the citation and said it was issued out of confusion on the part of the city’s codes enforcement officer.

Hall did not respond to questions from the News-Express regarding his criticism of the Pikeville Police Department’s handling of the case. Instead, he issued a lengthy statement about sign theft and indicated a special prosecutor will likely be appointed to handle the cases in Pike County.

“I plan on getting with the police agencies in Pike County to develop a protocol for enforcement and prosecution of sign theft and destruction even though Kentucky does not have a specific law on point but merely the general rules against theft and destruction of property,” Hall said in a statement issued to the News-Express. “These cases are sensitive because of the stigma attached to a charge against one camp and the motive for one campaign to blame the other for sign removal or destruction. Prosecution for these type cases depend on whether the sign is entrusted to private property or abandoned on public right of way. And whether or not permission was given by the landowner where sign is placed or the immediate landowner the sign is placed in front of.”

Hall said, however, that the Pikeville Police Department “deserves the right to prosecute the cases they file to the fullest extent of the law and that allegations of sign-stealing and defacing have circulated for some time.

“I’ve been a victim as have any one that has ever filed for office in this county, but it was always minimal and often times the landowner themselves were taking them up after the candidate left the area,” Hall said. “The candidates usually replenished the supply and the general consensus was that it was petty to complain, especially to authorities. But with more elaborate signs costing hundreds of dollars, this will be the first of many more of these type cases to come. More work for lawyers in town!”

Pikeville Police Chief Chris Edmonds said despite any implications made throughout the duration of the controversy, the Pikeville Police Department has no political interest in the race for family court judge.

“An election is an election to this department,” Edmonds said. “I spoke to (Justin Cory Hamilton) this morning about his case and he understands and believes that this department is doing everything in its power to solve his case.”

Edmonds said his department was contacted directly in both the alleged theft of Varney’s sign and in the vandalism of Justin Hamilton’s sign. He said the department, which has county-wide jurisdiction to practice law enforcement, was available to investigate both cases and did so. He said the difference in the two cases is that in the alleged theft of Varney’s sign, there was a witness which led police to identify Jimmy Hamilton as a suspect. There has been no witness to provide information in this weekend’s vandalism case.

“We have to have something that can point us to a person in order to be able to charge someone,” Edmonds said.

Edmonds said anyone with information regarding either case is encouraged to contact the Pikeville Police Department. Those with information may remain anonymous.

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