Three people–including a top Chris McDaniel for U.S. Senate campaign staffer–are under investigation by the Hinds County Sheriff’s Department after they were found inside the Hinds County courthouse Wednesday morning, hours after the last poll worker left Tuesday night.
The Clarion-Ledger reports that Scott Brewster, who works as McDaniel’s campaign coalition director, gained access to the courthouse along with Central Mississippi Tea Party President Janis Lane and Rob Chambers. The three entered the courthouse from a seldom-used side door sometime after 11:30 Tuesday night–the time when the last poll worker left.
They ended up locked in the courthouse and unable to leave.
At 2 a.m., Lane–who had earlier worked a precinct and dropped off her ballot material and left the courthouse at 8:30 p.m.–called Hinds County Republican Executive Chairman Pete Perry to report that they were locked in. Perry called the police, but it took until 3:45 for them to finally leave.
“There are conflicting stories from the three of them, which began to raise the red flag, and we’re trying to get to the bottom of it,” CL reported Hinds County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Othor Cain as saying.
Perry, who called the police, questioned the intentions of the trio.
“I know I wouldn’t walk into a courthouse at 2 o’clock in the morning by myself or with somebody else and just walk around inside the building,” Perry told Talking Points Memo. “I’m not going to go into a public building just because somehow or another I happened to find a door that was unlocked.
“Especially if it’s going down to where a bunch of election materials were and I’d been deeply involved in a campaign. I am 64. I was involved in politics when I was real young, and I remember people breaking into a hotel in the middle of the night.”
In a statement, McDaniel campaign Communications Manager Noel Fritsch said the incident was an “honest mistake.”
“Last night with an extremely close election and Hinds being one of the last counties to report, our campaign sent people to the Hinds courthouse to obtain the outstanding numbers and observe the count,” Fritsch wrote.
Hinds County was of particular significance because it was one of the last – and the very last – county with precincts remaining to be counted in the race Tuesday between McDaniel and Sen. Thad Cochran.
“Predictably, a close Cochran ally wants to make hay out of this,” Fritsch wrote. “Sadly, the Cochran campaign wants to make this election about anything but issues. Mississippians deserve better than this sort of distraction politics.”
Brewster previously worked on Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign.