David Houston’s sign that called the president a racist name and a pedophile drew the attention of the U.S. Secret Service but didn’t get him in trouble with the law, police say. His televised confrontation with a reporter did.

Houston, 59, is free on bail after his arrest on a charge of simple assault against WGME-TV reporter Steve Roldan. Houston is accused of grabbing the reporter by the throat Thursday as Roldan asked him about the sign near Houston’s home in Bridgton.

Roldan has worked for the CBS affiliate for 20 months. Before that, he spent seven years reporting for a station in San Antonio, a high-crime city with 1.3 million people.

“You cover a lot of crime and a lot of weird people, and even in a city like that, I never had any physical encounter with anybody,” Roldan said Friday. “People have made threats they’re going to do this, do that. This is the first time somebody has actually done anything toward me.”

Bridgton police learned of Houston’s sign, erected on the lawn at the intersection of Fosterville Road and Route 107, when a resident complained about the offensive message Tuesday.

The sign included a racial slur, accused President Obama of raping children and urged people to join a Bridgton version of the Ku Klux Klan, the white supremacist hate group with a history of violence against black people.

“We have no information or knowledge there is a Bridgton KKK. This is the first sign of anything of that nature,” said Police Chief Kevin Schofield.

“Due to the fact there was a lot of inflammatory and derogatory statements against the president (in the sign), we notified the Secret Service and communicated with the District Attorney’s Office,” Schofield said.

The Secret Service took a copy of the police report and got Houston’s address. A spokesman for the Secret Service, which is responsible for protecting the president, did not return a call Friday.

The Cumberland County District Attorney’s Office determined that the sign was not against the law, Schofield said.

“There’s always that fine line between what is protected free speech under the First Amendment and when something can cross the line of criminality,” Schofield said. “As inappropriate and grotesque — those are my words — as the language of the sign is, it doesn’t necessarily cross the line into criminality.”

On Thursday, police say, Houston did cross that line.

Roldan went to the property where the sign had been displayed after residents complained that it was offensive and visible to children getting on and off the school bus at the nearby stop.

When Roldan and photojournalist Dave Hill arrived, the sign had been moved into a barn on the property and the doors had been closed. Houston ordered them away, saying it was a private road.

But after checking with town officials and determining that it was in fact a public road, the two returned.

Roldan said Houston wanted to talk to him off the record, but he insisted that the interview be on camera and asked Houston about the sign.

After making some comments that didn’t make sense to Roldan, Houston grabbed the microphone and, after a brief struggle with the equipment, grabbed Roldan by the throat.

“He just had that really weird look in his face,” Roldan said. “This guy just snapped. I thought, ‘He’s going to punch me or something else is going to happen.’“

Hill ran to Roldan while calling 911. Houston then climbed into his van and drove away.

The camera, which was on a tripod, recorded the entire incident. When Schofield and Officer Phil Jones responded, they watched the video, determined that an assault had occurred and issued a bulletin for police to be on the lookout for Houston.

A Cumberland County sheriff’s deputy saw Houston on Route 114 in Sebago a few minutes later and Houston was arrested. Bridgton police took him to the Cumberland County Jail in Portland, where he was released after about an hour on $100 bail.

Neighbors said Friday that Houston keeps to himself in the sparsely populated neighborhood.

“He’s pretty reclusive. We don’t see much of him,” said Shirley Langevin, who lives on Fosterville Road and said she knew his parents before they died.

According to the State Bureau of Identification, Houston has no criminal convictions. But Schofield said he drew the attention of local law enforcement and the FBI several years ago when he allegedly advertised Indian scalps on an online classified site.

Houston told police that he worked as an anthropologist for 38 years, although it was not clear in what capacity, Schofield said.

Houston’s home address is 26 Fosterville Road, a short distance from the intersection of Route 107 and Fosterville Road. Calls to his telephone number were not answered Friday.

He is scheduled to appear in court Aug. 21.

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

[email protected]