Trial date set for Rountree, son-in-law accused of taking opponent’s campaign signs

Published 12:19 pm Friday, November 24, 2023

Isle of Wight County Supervisor-elect Renee Rountree and her son-in-law, Blacksburg resident Jesse Hanson, will stand trial jointly on Dec. 7 for their alleged roles in the theft of campaign signs belonging to her write-in opponent, Chris Torre.

Rountree faces a charge of receiving stolen property while Hanson faces a charge of larceny. Both charges are Class 1 misdemeanors, punishable by a fine of up to $2,500 and/or up to a year in jail.

According to Isle of Wight Commonwealth’s Attorney Georgette Phillips, a special prosecutor will be tasked with arguing the case. Court records show, and Phillips confirmed, that both trials will begin at 1 p.m. Dec. 7 in Isle of Wight’s General District Court.

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The two were arraigned on Oct. 25. Rountree’s attorney, Ashby Pope, is the law partner of Town Attorney William Riddick. They operate a private practice, Riddick & Pope, on Main Street. Hanson has retained a separate attorney, Fred Taylor of the Suffolk firm Bush & Taylor.

The charges stem from a series of reported thefts a month ahead of the Nov. 7 election Torre lost to Rountree.

“I maintain my innocence in this matter,” Rountree said in an Oct. 12 statement after being served with her warrant.

Torre told police and The Smithfield Times in October that he and his campaign volunteers had placed signs supporting his candidacy in Torre’s front yard on Sept. 27 and they were taken sometime during the evening or night of Oct. 2. Another placed at the entrance to Smithfield’s Cypress Creek community alongside signs for several other candidates went missing sometime prior to 11:23 a.m. on Oct. 3, according to Leah Walker, one of Torre’s campaign volunteers. The campaign replaced the Cypress Creek sign on Oct. 4, only to find it had been taken again sometime prior to 10:45 a.m. on Oct. 8, Walker told the Times.

According to an Oct. 12 town news release, police traced signs stolen from two separate locations to the 400 block of Royal Dornoch in Cypress Creek, where Rountree lives. According to Walker, police were able to locate the signs using data from an Apple AirTag tracking device the campaign had affixed to one of the replacements.

A report by Lt. J. Eric Phillips of the Smithfield Police Department states he found the signs “just inside the crawlspace door” in Rountree’s home’s foundation.

Phillips’ report further alleges video footage from a camera mounted outside the Isle of Wight County Museum captured images of a man police believe to be Hanson walking away with a Torre sign that had been placed on North Church Street near Cure coffee shop. The report states Phillips made contact on Oct. 9 with Rountree’s husband, Glenn, who granted the officer permission to search the residence, called his wife and put her on speakerphone to talk with Phillips. She allegedly told the lieutenant that Hanson had taken the signs “as a prank.”

Rountree then reportedly told Phillips she’d planned to put the signs “behind the treasurer’s office” where campaign signs removed from public right-of-ways are typically taken before they’re returned to the candidates, but “didn’t have time.”

Phillips’ report states he called Hanson the same day as the search and he admitted to taking two signs.