By Cameron Rasmusson and Ben Olson
Scott Rhodes, the person of interest in the distribution of racist propaganda at Sandpoint High School, has been investigated by another police department over suspicious activity, according to a Sandpoint Police Department report.
Police officers in Alexandria, Va., examined Rhodes for “possibly making threatening phone calls to local politicians in the city of Alexandria,” the report states. After local politicians received harassing, racist phone calls, investigating officers connected the phone numbers to Rhodes.
According to Crystal Nosal, public information officer for Alexandria Police Department, Virginia law requires that the identities of people under investigation can’t be disclosed until they are charged with a crime. However, she did confirm that three or four months ago, Alexandria police opened an investigation into harassing phone calls to Alexandria Mayor Allison Silberberg and several City Council members.
“Some of the content was anti-Semitic in nature,” she said.
Investigating officer Sgt. Will Salas’ inquiries eventually pointed toward Sandpoint.
“Through the course of the investigation, Sgt. Salas did ask your local police officers to check a few names and businesses,” Nosal said.
According to the Sandpoint Police report, which was obtained by a public records request, Rhodes is the person under investigation. Salas linked the phone call, which was determined to be a recording of Adolf Hitler, to a business called American Discovery Publishing. When he called the number, he received a message indicating he had “reached the desk of Scott Rhodes.” Other phone listings further connected the number to Rhodes.
Salas sent Sandpoint police several flyers with anti-Semitic and nuclear-weapon themes related to his investigation, the police report states. The flyers were distinct from those distributed in Sandpoint throughout 2017. He also sent a handwritten note, which read, “You ran a town where they (expletive) dogs with broomsticks? Get ready for your bombs! We are coming.”
According to the police report, the handwriting was not similar to the writing on envelopes containing harassing letters sent to Sandpoint business owner Lee Hardin. A black man, Hardin contacted police in the summer of last year after repeated instances of racial harassment.
“It was summer, and I was coming … with some carryout,” Hardin said. “I was going to my car, and there was a red Jeep pulling out. He was pulling out and looked and saw me … and screamed the N-word at me. I said, ‘What?’ and he screamed it again and peeled out.”
Hardin said he didn’t file a police report after that incident, but he did contact Sandpoint police when he began receiving envelopes from an anonymous source. The envelopes contained a single letter, and were sent about a week apart — the first one contained an “N,” the second an “I,” the third a “G,” the fourth a “G” and the fifth an “E.” Hardin went on vacation in Hawaii around that time and didn’t see the final envelope, but he heard from a staff member that another arrived containing the letter “R.”
“Then it stopped,” Hardin said. “Each time I had a letter the cops told me to call them.”
After Hardin returned from vacation, he began receiving catalogs and magazines. He didn’t notice anything strange about them until the mailman pointed out the recipient name. It was “Stu Pidkune.”
“I think it was the same guy sending (the envelopes with letters and the catalogs) because they were both addressed ‘Guaranteed Rates’ when my business name is actually ‘Guaranteed Rate,’” Hardin said. “I haven’t heard anything since the end of October.”
When shown a photo array by Sandpoint officers, Hardin confirmed that two of the pictures were not of the man who yelled a slur at him but was unsure of the remaining four, according to the police report. Police then showed him a picture of Rhodes taken from an officer’s body cam footage in a traffic stop, which was conducted after Salas reached out to Sandpoint. Hardin was “95-percent sure the male in the stills was the male who called him the racial slur,” the report states.
Hardin was even more certain when a Sandpoint Reader reporter showed him a photo, taken from body cam footage obtained in a records request, of a man identified by police as Rhodes.
“That’s definitely the dude,” Hardin said. “He was wearing a hat, but that’s definitely the dude.”
Rhodes’ name was revealed to the public after Sandpoint media outlets obtained a police report detailing the distribution of racist propaganda at Sandpoint High School. On Nov. 30, police recovered 56 CDs containing racist, anti-Semitic material placed on cars in the school parking lot. Security footage revealed that an individual in a red Jeep, a vehicle type already linked to Rhodes by police, was responsible for distributing the CDs.
Already under Sandpoint police attention, Rhodes was trespassed from school property by Lake Pend Oreille School District Superintendent Shawn Woodward following the incident. Sandpoint police officers Sam Smith and Mike Aerni then visited Rhodes’ place of business to deliver the trespass notice. In police body cam footage of the encounter obtained by the Sandpoint Reader following a Freedom Of Information Act request, the man police identified as Rhodes denied involvement in the incident.
“We have you on camera … getting out (of your Jeep) and putting CDs on several cars,” Smith said.
“No, I don’t think you do,” Rhodes responded. “Not me.”
“I’d be happy to take your number and have my attorney call you,” he later added.
After the officers detailed the terms of his trespass from school grounds, Rhodes insisted he didn’t know anything about distributing flyers. In response, Aerni said local police had been watching him for some time.
“We know it’s you. We’ve had you on our radar. OK?” he said. “We know you’ve been handing out the flyers, putting them on the lawns. We know you went to the school. We got you on video. (We) have your Jeep, your license plate number.”
The police bodycam video can be viewed on the Reader Facebook page at:
The incident at Sandpoint High School was the latest in an ongoing distribution campaign of racist literature. Flyers tossed into lawns in the dead of night spread racist and anti-Semitic images, anti-immigrant and anti-refugee sentiments and attacks against local nonprofit members, journalists and politicians, including Mayor Shelby Rognstad. In September, the Bonner County Human Rights Task Force held a press conference condemning the flyers, saying that they do not reflect Sandpoint’s character.
When confronted by a Sandpoint Reader reporter at his office, Rhodes declined to comment. Rhodes’ neighbors in his office complex, meanwhile, described him as a man who keeps to himself. They were unsure of what he does at his office and said he was awkward in their limited interactions. Two separate neighbors in the complex believe he moved in four to six months ago.
To date, Rhodes is not charged with any crime in either Sandpoint or Alexandria. According to Sandpoint Police Chief Corey Coon, even if police can prove his involvement in the distribution of racist material, the actions are likely covered under his First Amendment rights.