Todd and Davar Gardner are offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the persons responsible for vandalizing 33 motorhomes, boats, trailers and vehicles at their Gardner’s RV and Trailer Center in Kalispell, Mont.
At around 6 a.m. on Tuesday (June 9), Todd Gardner began receiving calls about graffiti at his business. When he arrived, he saw that nearly the whole front row of his inventory was riddled with spray-painted messages that referred to a long-running legal battle he and his father have had with John Stokes, a neighbor and owner of the radio station KGEZ, according to the Kalispell Flathead Beacon.
In September, a Flathead County District Court jury ruled against Stokes in a defamation lawsuit and ordered him to pay the Gardners $3.8 million in damages. One of the spray-painted messages was: “$3.8 Million, Give it Back or Die.” Other messages were laced with obscenities, making reference to “freedom of speech” and the “truth,” among other things.
Stokes quickly condemned the graffiti and said he had nothing to do with it. Making clear that he doesn’t “like criminal activity at all,” Stokes said his station has offered rewards for information regarding the vandals and also offered to have volunteers help clean. He also said his radio station has been vandalized and he has received death threats before.
“It’s unfortunate that these things happen, but we didn’t have anything to do with it and we didn’t incite or encourage anybody to do this,” Stokes said. “It’s nothing I condone.”
The defamation litigation stemmed from comments Stokes made on his radio show about the Gardners. Two of the three disputed comments were in reference to a previous legal battle over property that the two parties were involved in, and the third was an accusation that the Gardners committed bank fraud when obtaining a $900,000 loan.
Stokes conceded that he had made the comments and they were false, but contended he took the appropriate steps to verify their accuracy and was exercising his right to free speech. The jury found that the comments were made with malicious intent.
Since the trial, Stokes has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, though the federal government is seeking to change it to a Chapter 7 filing, which would force him to liquidate his assets to pay his debts. Stokes believes the Supreme Court will reverse the district court jury’s decision and said he has a plan to get out of bankruptcy.
“We’re not going anywhere,” Stokes said.
Crews at Gardners spent most of Tuesday washing the spray paint off. Flathead Janitorial and Janitor’s World contributed cleaning supplies and Todd Gardner said community members offered to help. Much of the graffiti came off with chemicals, Gardner said, though as of Tuesday he was worried about “extensive damage” to the finish on the motorhomes and other inventory.
Davar Gardner, Todd’s dad, doesn’t believe the acts were random.
“They were trying to portray their message,” Davar Gardner said. “They weren’t just trying to vandalize.”