Henrico Police arrested and charged Ron Hedlund, a man who came to the University of Richmond armed in February, with identity theft and violation of county ordinance Sept. 3.
Hedlund was charged with identity theft and a violation of a county ordinance related to advertisements and announcements, Karina Bolster, a spokesperson from the Henrico County Police Division, wrote in an email to The Collegian.
Any sign, notice or advertisement that is posted in a park with the intent to attract attention must receive written approval from the park director, according to the Henrico County Code.
“[The charge] does not have to do with the CONTENT on the sign, rather where the sign was placed/located.” Bolster wrote.
Hedlund displayed a sign at RF&P park in Glen Allen that said “Biden Sucks” with a depiction of male genitalia outside of a youth baseball tournament on Aug. 17. The Henrico County Police Department responded to the park to report and document the situation, an article by NBC12 wrote.
Hedlund was approached by a man because of the content of his signs. He responded saying that his reasoning for protesting is the First Amendment and that he will not change, according to an article published in RVA Magazine.
Hedlund first came to UR on Jan. 10. standing outside of E. Claiborne Robins Stadium, Hedlund was armed with a handgun and held a sign that said “Fuck Biden.” Hedlund returned to campus and stood outside E. Claiborne Robins Stadium on Feb. 11 with a handgun, sign and group of protestors.
Henrico County likely does not have a content based restriction, explaining why Hedlund’s charges exclude the explicit imagery on the sign, Law professor Jack Preis said.
Hedlund said that his right to protest was protected by free speech. However, the court may argue that the park has a “time, place and manner restriction.” Hedlund’s display of adult content in a park where children are actively present violates that restriction, Preis said.
Hedlund has made many threatening comments towards Henrico County Manager John Vithoulkas such as publishing Vithoulkas’ home address on Youtube, protesting and filming outside of his home and publishing the date and address of Vithoulkas’ daughters wedding according to an article published in RVA Magazine.
The court will have to prove that Hedlund had the intent to coerce, intimidate or harass the public official to be able to charge him according to Virginia law, Preis said. It is possible that Hedlund could face legal consequences for this charge as the government can criminalize publishing private information.
Political Science professor Tracy Roof believes Hedlund’s protesting and arrest highlights the rising political polarization in the country. This type of protesting has been encouraged by former President Donald Trump, who also argued that it is protected under the First Amendment and is a form of speech used to foster political action, she said.
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Hedlund’s identity theft charge showed that the concerns of threats to public officials have gotten greater, especially considering the nation's history, Roof said.
The Henrico County Police Department is still investigating Hedlund’s case, Bolster said.
Contact news writer Ava Humphries at email@example.com.
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