Electronic Tag On Campaign Sign Thwarts Theft Attempt In Redlands

In what is believed to be the first use of an electronic tracking system to thwart the vandalism and/or disruption aimed at electioneering activity in San Bernardino County, the Redlands Police Department on October 17 recovered four stolen campaign signs and cited the woman who had removed them from where they had been posted.
The signs in question were ones for Redlands School Board candidate Erin Stepien, which had been placed at various locations around Redlands, including at the Plaza Las Palmas retail center, 1150 Brookside Avenue, at the corner of Brookside Avenue and San Mateo Street. The sign at the shopping center had been outfitted with a tracking device.
At 7:40 p.m. on the evening of October 17, a Monday, Candy Olson, Stepien’s campaign manager, noted that one of Stepien’s campaign signs was being moved. She traced it to a location on Sonora Circle Drive, proximate to or at the residence of Patty Holohan, the incumbent school board member against whom Stepien is running. Olson contacted the police to inform them of the theft.According to the department, Olson’s relaying of the tracking data related to the sign sufficed as evidence of a “violation of Penal Code section 484(a) petty theft occurrence at 20:04 hrs [8:04 p.m.] on October 17, 2022, at 1150 Brookside Avenue, Redlands.”
Records obtained from the Redlands Police Department indicate its officers were dispatched at 8:55 p.m. to the Sonora Circle Drive location. While they were en route, at 8:58 p.m., the tracking device gave indication the sign was being moved once more, ultimately to a location in the 900 block of Thomas Avenue in Redlands, whereupon Olson texted the police, alerting them to the sign’s repositioning.
According to the department, its officers were able to go immediately to the location of the sign, the Thomas Avenue residence of Mary Ethel Bell, 62, where she was found to be in possession of four Stepien campaign signs, including the one removed from the Brookside Avenue/San Mateo Street commercial center and three others.
“On Monday night, Oct. 17, a school board candidate reported that her political signs had been
stolen from the corner of a shopping center at the corner of Brookside Avenue and San Mateo Street,” the Redlands Police Department’s weekly update for October 13 to October 20 states. “The victim had an Apple Air Tag inside one of the signs and received notification when it was moved. She traced the sign to an address in Redlands. Police responded and found the suspect in possession of four signs. She was arrested and the signs were returned to the victim.”
In response to the Sentinel’s request of the city for information pertaining to the incident, Redlands City Attorney Yvette M. Abich Garcia clarified that Bell had been subjected to a cite-release arrest rather than being taken into custody. With regard to the factual circumstances surrounding the arrest, the amount of bail set, all charges the arrestee is being held on and the time and manner of release, Abich Garcia said there was no bail and that a “citation [was] issued in the field and [Bell was] released.”
Olson, reporting on what had been related to her by the officers dispatched to Bell’s home to locate and recover the signs, indicated Bell acknowledged having coordinated with Patty Holohan, the incumbent school board member Stepien is running against, in the removal of the signs. The Sentinel has been unable to confirm that Bell made an admission of working on behalf of Holohan or the Holahan campaign. The full police report containing Bell’s entire statement to the police officers who were dispatched to her residence is being withheld.
According to Abich Garcia, “Section 6254(f)(2)(A) of the [California Public Records] Act does not require disclosure of investigatory records or information when doing so ‘would endanger the successful completion of the investigation or a related investigation.’ The matter has been submitted to and is pending with the San Bernardino District Attorney’s Office for further review and investigation and disclosure of investigatory records would jeopardize the pending case.”
This week, some Redlands residents were calling upon Holohan to resign. Holohan, who is continuing her electioneering effort unabated, ignored those requests, and did not directly address questions about Bell’s action or Bell’s connection to her campaign.

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