Rountree, Hanson sign theft trials delayed to Dec. 14

Published 7:05 pm Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Isle of Wight County Supervisor-elect Renee Rountree and her son-in-law, Blacksburg resident Jesse Hanson, have each been granted one-week delays in standing trial for their alleged roles in the theft of campaign signs belonging to Rountree’s write-in opponent, Chris Torre.

Eric Cooke, the commonwealth’s attorney for Southampton County and the city of Franklin, has been named as a special prosecutor, according to his Isle of Wight Commonwealth’s Attorney Georgette Phillips, who has recused her office from the case. 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.

The two were originally scheduled to stand trial jointly on Dec. 7. A Nov. 27 court filing by Kristian Veale, a legal assistant to Rountree’s attorney, Ashby Pope, asked that Rountree’s trial be postponed to Dec. 14 due to “a work trip” that conflicted with the Dec. 7 date.

Court records now list Dec. 14 at 1 p.m. as the new date and time for Rountree and Hanson.

Phillips said any of the three Isle of Wight General District Court judges – Nicole Belote, Alfred Bates III or Helivi Holland – may be assigned to hear the case. as none had recused themselves as of Dec. 5. A specific judge won’t be named unless one of the judges recuses himself or herself, Phillips said.

Hanson has retained a separate attorney, Fred Taylor of the Suffolk firm Bush & Taylor.

Rountree, who maintains her innocence, was charged on Oct. 12 after police, according to a report by Smithfield Police Lt. J. Eric Phillips, traced two Torre signs reported stolen from two separate locations to the 400 block of Royal Dornoch in Cypress Creek where Rountree lives. 

Torre, who lost his write-in bid on Nov. 7 with just under 40% of the vote to Rountree’s just under 60%, told The Smithfield Times in October that he’d placed signs supporting his candidacy in his yard on Sept. 27. The signs were taken during the evening or night of Oct. 2. Another placed at the entrance to Cypress Creek alongside signs for other candidates went missing prior to 11:23 a.m. on Oct. 23, according to Torre campaign volunteer Leah Walker. The campaign replaced the Cypress Creek sign on Oct. 4 only to find it had been taken again prior to 10:45 a.m. on Oct. 8, Walker told the Times.

Walker said police were able to track the missing 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.”

The report further alleges Rountree to have 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 that he called Hanson the same day as the search and that Hanson admitted to taking two signs.