PORTSMOUTH — Michael DiPaola, who’s become infamous locally for his display of anti-Portsmouth signs along East Main Road, was arrested today, Oct. 26, and charged with cyberstalking and cyber-harassment.
The 57-year-old DiPaola, of 40 Col. Barton Drive, is an independent candidate for Portsmouth Town Council.
According to Deputy Police Chief Michael Arnold, the charge stems from a complaint by a 54-year-old Portsmouth man, who said he received a text from DiPaola on Oct. 20.
DiPaola had previously contacted the victim, who warned him not to make contact again, Arnold said.
“He had been told not to call,” he said.
Detectives investigated the incident, obtained a warrant, and DiPaola turned himself in on Wednesday, Arnold said. He was arraigned in 2nd District Court in Newport on the misdemeanor charge.
DiPaola first made waves in early 2021, when he put up a group of signs in front of a Bristol Ferry Road home that made accusations against town officials in response to its building code enforcement. The signs accused the town of corruption, selectively enforcing codes, and conflict of interest.
After posting additional signs, the town issued a notice of violation of the town’s zoning ordinance, alleging that DiPaola failed to obtain a permit required to display the signs, that political signs were not a category of sign allowed to be displayed in residential areas, and that the display also violated a provision banning signs that “interfere with, mislead or confuse traffic.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the town on behalf of DiPaola, claiming the order violated his free speech rights under the First Amendment. The town argued, however, that it wasn’t targeting the content of the signs.
In April 2021, a federal judge approved a consent judgement that permanently restrained the town from “enforcing and/or threatening to enforce” provisions of the town’s sign ordinance as it relates to (1) any posting of signs by Mr. DiPaola on any property he owns in Portsmouth and; (2) “any non-commercial speech signs posted in the town.”
Later, DiPaola purchased a vacant lot on East Main Road in the south section of town and upped his game. He filled the lot — a former gas station — with more signs, some of which were bigger and more vulgar than before. The display also features a few toilet seats used as planters.
The signs (scroll through the photos above) have been a sore point with not only town officials but local residents, some of whom have responded with their own signs and displays in support of the town and critical of DiPaola.
DiPaola's name is on the ballot for next month's election, but it's unclear how serious his candidacy is for Town Council. He was the only council candidate who did not respond to a questionnaire sent out by The Portsmouth Times, and he doesn't appear to be actively campaigning.