A disabled Marine veteran tried to spruce up the yard behind his home in Woodbridge, Virginia by painting a picnic table -- and found himself facing criminal charges.
Mickey Triplett, 53, is due in a Prince William County courtroom Monday to face a misdemeanor destruction of property charge in a case that has outraged residents and veterans' groups.
The trouble started in early July, when Triplett's daughter and granddaughter
were scheduled to visit from North Carolina. Triplett wanted to clean up the area near his home in the Potomac Ridge Apartments, so he painted a bare wood picnic table white.
"I just thought it would be nice to do something, but I never thought about asking permission. I just thought it would be something kind, out of my heart," he said.
Triplett said after eight years in the Marines and more than two decades with the D.C. Department of Corrections, he sees himself as a helper.
But Triplett said when the apartment maintenance manager saw the paint job, she was outraged. Soon after, Triplett answered a knock at his door and found a police officer there.
"He said, 'I'm here to serve you a summons.' I said, 'A summons for what?' ... He said 'There's been a charge against you for destruction of property," Triplett said.
He said the officer was sympathetic.
"He said, 'I don't see nothing wrong with it, but the mangement lady is charging you."
Triplett said he confronted the maintenance manager.
"Why would you call the police for something like this?" he said. "You could have talked to me to me and I could have rectified. I could have done anything you asked me to, but to call the police?"
Triplett also was given a letter instructing him to move out by September.
Potomac Ridge managers did not return calls for comment.
When News4 visited the apartment complex on Friday, a contractor was removing the white picnic table. He said because the treated wood wasn't primed before painting, the table was ruined. By early evening, the plan had changed. The table had been painted brown.
At the Stonebridge at Potomac Town Center shopping area nearby, several shoppers said Triplett should have sought permission before he painted, but most said they thought calling police was an overreaction.
"That's not showing respect to our veterans," Lisa Klima said. "You need to give people who have done service for this country more of the benefit of the doubt."
Triplett also received a flurry of support on the local news website Potomac Local, which was first to report on Triplett's legal trouble.
Word of the controversy also reached Prince William County Commonwealth's Attorney Paul Ebert. He told News4 he reviewed the allegation and saw no criminal intent. He said he will ask that the charge be dropped in court on Monday.
Triplett got the good news late Friday afternoon. He paused, lifted his hand to sky and said, "That's awesome."
In other good news for Triplett, the nonprofit Volunteers of America helped him find a new apartment nearby. He was settling in on Friday and teared up as he described how thankful he was for his caseworker.
"That's tears of happiness, because she came to my home," he said. "She said, 'Mr. Triplett, you don't have to worry about anything, we'll take care of you.'"