Man charged with assault after being asked to remove obscene signs from yard

By Abby Morris-Frye
star staff

  Editor's Note: Portions of the following story may be offensive to some readers.
  A city man has been charged after he reportedly threatened a neighbor and her children when the woman asked him to remove from his yard offensive signs containing obscene messages.
  Robert C. Little, 75, 409 E. D St., was served on Tuesday with a criminal summons charging him with assault.
  According to a report filed with the Elizabethton Police Department on Oct. 7, Little had been placing signs with obscene sexual references, racial slurs and homosexual slurs in his yard and on the front door of his residence. When neighbor Diane Cleghorn asked him to remove the signs he threatened her.
  "I wrote him a letter," Cleghorn told the Elizabethton Star on Tuesday. "I told Mr. Little that while we believe in First Amendment rights and that we understand from his signs that he has issues with African-Americans and homosexuals and that while we do not share these views we respect his right to free speech. We understand that what you do in your own home is none of our business but when we have to see it and it affects our children it becomes our business."
  Cleghorn said the incidents became worse after she asked Little to remove the signs. "That is when the personal stuff started," she said, adding that he had threatened to kill her and also threatened her children.
  When Cleghorn filed her report of the harassment and threats with the Police Department, she also submitted a list of statements on the signs which Little had posted on his property over the last few weeks. According to the report, the signs displayed messages including, "Burn all (racial slur directed at African-Americans)," "Kill all (racial slur directed at African-Americans)," "Kill all (sexual slur directed at homosexuals)." Many of the messages shown on the signs, according to police reports, were too vulgar to include in this story.
  According to Cleghorn, Little also yells the obscenities. She told the EPD that, on one occasion, Little yelled at her 5-year-old son, "Come here you little (sexual slur directed at homosexuals)," and, on another occasion when she went outside to retrieve her mail, he yelled, "Show me your (slang word referring to the female genitals)."
  Cleghorn said frequently Little will step outside his residence in the very early morning hours between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. and yell obscenities and threats toward her family.
  The whole situation is having a negative affect on Cleghorn's children. "We have tried to shelter him (her son) from all of this. He hears Mr. Little yelling that he's going to kill us," Cleghorn said.
  Cleghorn said her children are frightened of Little. "My little boy cried about going to school this morning and acted like he was sick," Cleghorn said, adding that when she asked her son what was wrong he wouldn't tell her and she could tell he was not sick. She said that she finally got him to tell her why he didn't want to go to school. "He said 'I just think I need to be here in case Mr. Little comes to get you," Cleghorn said.
  In addition to her children being frightened, she said the language used by Little is also affecting them. She said her children often ask her or teachers at school what the words mean and get into trouble at school because the words are inappropriate and obscene.
  Cleghorn said she moved into her residence in July of this year and has been dealing with the outbursts from Little ever since. She said that when she asked neighbors about his behavior she was told that this kind of activity from Little has been going on for years.
  Little has been arrested on several other occasions for the same offensive behavior, according to reports.
  In addition to obscenities and threats, Cleghorn said Little has behaved in other inappropriate ways. She said that he touches himself in an inappropriate manner while sitting on the front porch of his residence and often urinates in his front yard where the neighborhood can see him.
  "At first it was annoying and an embarrassment," Cleghorn said. Now, she said, she is often afraid for her safety and the safety of her children. She does not allow them to be outside without supervision and has told them to stay away from Little's residence and that if Little comes outside they are to come inside their house immediately.
  Cleghorn said she has contacted the police, the district attorney, and the American Civil Liberties Union only to be told that Little's signs and yelling of obscenities is protected as free speech. She decided then to take matters into her own hands and swore out the criminal summons for assault which Little was served on Tuesday. Cleghorn also said she and other neighbors from the area are prepared to go to court to attempt to get Little's behavior stopped.
  Little is scheduled to appear in General Sessions Court on Oct. 18 on the assault charge.