Lincoln police have ticketed a UNL researcher who they say added googly eyes to campaign signs for Rep. Jeff Fortenberry in October.

Patricia Wonch Hill was cited Tuesday with three counts of misdemeanor vandalism following fingerprint analysis identifying her as the culprit, police spokeswoman Angela Sands said.

Wonch Hill, a research assistant professor of sociology and a political activist, pleaded no contest to disorderly conduct, which resulted in $94 in court fees, in connection to a protest at the home of a National Rifle Association lobbyist in Virginia.

Wednesday, Lincoln police said fingerprints from Wonch Hill in a federal database matched prints found on the stickers used to vandalize Fortenberry campaign signs at 70th and A and 84th and Van Dorn streets in October.

The Fortenberry sign at 70th and A was also defaced with a strip of tape that turned the Republican's name into a sophomoric joke.

A sticker in the candidate's hair indicated that Betsy Riot, a neo-suffragette, punk-patriot resistance movement, was responsible for the mischief.

Wonch Hill was also cited for vandalism at U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer's office last year in which Betsy Riot stickers were placed on the door.

Vandalism is a city misdemeanor, with a possible penalty of up to six months in jail and/or a $500 fine.

Charges had not been filed Wednesday, but Wonch Hill was told to appear in court in the case next month.

Sands said the damage to property — estimated at $100 — went beyond free speech expression. Wonch Hill, she said, is being looked at in other open vandalism cases.

Following criticism on social media that police tested stickers from the vandalism for fingerprints, Sands defended the officers and said they followed protocol in property crime cases.

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"The amount of loss doesn’t matter," she said.

If an officer has permission to fingerprint and can lift usable prints from a property crime scene, the officers will do so.

Last year, they sent nearly 2,700 fingerprints to the department's analysts and made 920 identifications in cases ranging from theft and vandalism to murder, Sands said.

Wonch Hill didn't respond to a request for comment.

An online fundraiser purporting to raise money for Wonch Hill's defense had received nearly $1,500 in donations by Wednesday afternoon.

Any leftover funds, according to the campaign, will be used to pay for similar signs mocking Fortenberry.

In a statement, UNL spokeswoman Leslie Reed said the university doesn't condone vandalism.

"However, this is a personal legal matter based on actions of a faculty member on their own time, and they will have to take accountability for their actions based on the outcome of the legal process," Reed's statement said.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7250 or nhicks@journalstar.com. Reporter Riley Johnson contributed to this column.

On Twitter @LJSNancyHicks.


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