Stuart Sherr sentenced for political sign theft
Bloomfield Hills City Commissioner Stuart Sherr on Friday, August 30, pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor theft charge and was sentenced to community service and fines in connection to the theft of campaign signs in November of 2018 which belonged to a Bloomfield Hills School Board candidate.
Sherr was arrested on November 1, 2018 by Bloomfield Hills Public Safety officers after police said an officer witnessed Sherr stop in the parking lot of 74 W. Long Lake Road, get out of his vehicle and take a campaign sign out of the ground and put it in his trunk.
Police said at the time that officers had been conducting random surveillance of Prasad's signs after she filed a police report days earlier regarding a number of campaign signs of hers that had been stolen from various locations, including the property on Long Lake Road. Prasad told Downtown newsmagazine in February 2019 that about 90 of her campaign signs were removed from properties in the school district.
A police report noted that Sherr trudged through the rain in the dark to remove Anjali Prasad's sign, then walked it back to his car and put it in the trunk. The police officer then followed Sherr to his home and conducted a traffic stop.
Since the time of his arrest, Sherr has maintained the signs were in violation of the city's sign ordinance, which requires campaign signs to be no less than 10 feet from the roadway as measured from the curb. An officer noted in his report that Sherr had to pass two other signs to reach the Prasad sign, but didn't disturb the placement of those signs. The other two signs he passed over were for candidates he had endorsed on social media.
Officers also noted that Sherr had repeatedly stated that he was friends with the property owners and was acting on their behalf to remove illegally placed signs that could cause a public safety hazard by being too close to the road. Police advised him that the property owner should have made contact with Prasad or the police, and that it wasn't his responsibility to remove the signs.
Court documents show that Prasad had permission from either the property owner or a representative of the owner to place the signs at the properties in question.. Affidavits from the property owners themselves in which they supported Sherr's actions were not obtained until January 2019.
The case was transferred from the 48th District Court in Bloomfield Township to the 44th District Court in Royal Oak after judges at the 48th recused themselves. The 48th District Court receives partial funding from the city of Bloomfield Hills.
Sherr, who previously served as mayor and is currently finishing his fourth term as a city commissioner, said he decided not to run for re-election this November as a result of the case.
"This has killed me and my reputation, as well as my desire to ever help anyone again," Sherr said of the incident and subsequent court case. "I think the prosecution was trying to make an example out of me. I couldn't have run for re-election.”
Armed with a four-inch thick folder containing zoning ordinances, photographs, court motions, affidavits and his own campaign literature, Sherr – an attorney and CPA by training who serves as vice president of his family's real estate and management business – spent about an hour on Wednesday, September 4 laying out his defense to a reporter in a Royal Oak coffee shop.
"Safety, security and stability," Sherr said, repeating his top priorities listed in his campaign literature. "That includes people and property. I always stand by that."
And it was exactly that duty to safety that Sherr said he was following when he removed four campaign signs that belonged to then-school board candidate Prasad. Signs Sherr claims were in violation of the city's sign ordinance and had the potential to distract drivers or impair their vision by being too close to the road.
Further, Sherr noted, through affidavits given in January 2019 by two property owners where the signs were removed, he had express permission by the owners to remove any signs that were in violation of the ordinance. Additionally, Sherr said he had no other motive to remove the signs and didn't act with any malicious intent.
A trial date had been set for September 23 before 44th District Court Judge Derek Meinecke; Sherr said he opted to enter a plea of no contest to the single charge of larceny under $200 in order to end the case. A plea of no contest means the defendant doesn't admit guilt, nor do they dispute the charge in court. Sherr was sentenced that day to pay $1,125 in fines and court costs, serve community service and 10 days in the court's Weekend Alternative for Misdemeanants program.
While Sherr said he believes he would have been cleared of any wrongdoing at a criminal trial, he said the negative attention from the case had become overwhelming and he entered the no contest plea to put an end to the situation.
"This all took place in November, and today is September 4. The case was going to be adjourned at the trial date, again," Sherr said. "It was already 11 months with no end in sight. I have my limit. I'm only human."
Both Sherr nor Prasad said they didn't know each other when the incident occurred. Prasad – a first-time political candidate – also said she didn't know why her signs were going missing, as the city had not received any complaints about the signs being in violation of the ordinance.
While the case has been closed, Sherr is still working through the sentencing, as well as his own frustrations as he continues to point to the victim in the case, insisting Prasad knowingly placed signs in violation.
Still, looking back at the incident, Sherr said he questioned his own actions that night, which is why he claims he didn't remove other candidate signs at the time.
"After removing four signs, I was standing in the rain, soaking wet and cold and I said to myself, 'Why am I doing this?'" he said. "I had no motive. My motive was public safety. All she was to me was an illegally placed sign."
Sherr clarified on that nobody had instructed him to remove signs, and that he acted on his own. He said he previously misspoke when he asserted that then-mayor Sarah McClure, currently a commissioner, had instructed him to remove any signs. Rather, he said, McClure has mentioned that signs can be a problem in general.
"I'm sorry this whole thing ever happened," Sherr said. "I never intended for any of this."