David Houston’s sign calling the president a racist name and a pedophile earned him the attention of the U.S. Secret Service but didn’t get him in trouble with the law, police said.

His violent confrontation with a reporter asking him about the sign Thursday did.

Houston, 59, is free on bail after his arrest on a charge of simple assault against WGME Channel 13 reporter Steve Roldan. Houston is accused of grabbing the reporter by the throat.

Roldan has worked at the CBS affiliate for 20 months. Before that, he spent seven years reporting for a station in San Antonio, a high-crime city with 1.3 million people.

“You cover a lot of crime and a lot of weird people and even in a city like that, I never had any physical encounter with anybody,” he said. “People have made threats they’re going to do this, do that. This is the first time somebody has actually done anything towards me.”

Bridgton police learned of Houston’s sign on the lawn at the intersection of Fosterville Road and Route 107 when a resident complained about the offensive message on Tuesday. It called the president a racial slur, accused him of raping children and urged people to join a Bridgton version of the Ku Klux Klan, which has a history of racist violence.

“We have no information or knowledge there is a Bridgton KKK. This is the first sign of anything of that nature,” said Police Chief Kevin Schofield.

“Due to the fact there was a lot of inflammatory and derogatory statements against the president (in the sign), we notified the Secret Service and communicated with the district attorney’s office,” Schofield said.

The Secret Service took a copy of the police report and got Houston’s address. A spokesman for the service, charged with protecting the president, did not return a telephone call by press time.

The Cumberland County district attorney determined the sign was not against the law, Schofield said.

“There’s always that fine line between what is protected free speech under the First Amendment and when something can cross the line of criminality,” Schofield said. “After a verbal review with district attorney, as inappropriate and grotesque — those are my words — as the language of the sign is, it doesn’t necessarily cross the line into criminality.”

However, two days later, police say Houston did cross that line.

Roldan initially went to the property where the sign was displayed after residents complained it was offensive and viewable by children getting on and off the school bus at the nearby stop.

When Roldan and photojournalist Dave Hill arrived, the sign had been moved inside a barn and the doors were closed. Houston ordered them away, saying it was a private road. But after checking with town officials to determine it was a public road, the pair returned. Roldan said Houston wanted to talk to him off the record, but he insisted the interview be on camera. After some comments that didn’t make sense to Roldan, Houston grabbed the microphone, and after a brief struggle with the equipment, grabbed Roldan by the throat.

“He just had that really weird look on his face,” Roldan said. “This guy just snapped. I thought ‘He’s going to punch me or something else is going to happen.'”

Hill came running, while simultaneously calling 911. Houston then climbed into his van and drove off.

The camera, which was on a tripod, caught the entire interaction. When Schofield and officer Phil Jones responded, they watched the video, determined an assault had occurred and issued a bulletin to area departments to be on the lookout for Houston.

A Cumberland County sheriff’s deputy spotted Houston on Route 114 in Sebago a few minutes later and he was arrested. Bridgton police took him to Cumberland County Jail, where he was released after about an hour on $100 bail.

Neighbors said that Houston keeps to himself in the sparsely populated neighborhood.

“He’s pretty reclusive. We don’t see much of him,” said Shirley Langevin, who also lives on Fosterville Road and who said she knew his parents before they died.

Neighbors also said Houston’s sign was not his first.

One neighbor said his wife found one of Houston’s signs on the side of the road and brought it to the police station because of its racially insulting language. The man, who asked that his name not be used, said he knows Houston and his family and that the man is very intelligent but odd.

Schofield said Houston does not have a criminal history with the department, but did draw the attention of local law enforcement and the FBI several years ago when he advertised Indian scalps on an online classified site, Schofield said. According to the State Bureau of Identification, he has no prior criminal convictions.

Houston told police he had worked as an anthropologist for 38 years, though it was not clear in what capacity.

Houston lists an address of 26 Fosterville Road, a short distance from the intersection where the sign had been. Calls to his telephone number were not answered Friday.

Houston is scheduled to appear in court Aug. 21.


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