When you’re a convicted sex offender, it’s gotta be hard enough to come and go from your home without the snide comments and outright taunts. But for Tim Russo, who torched his own budding blogger cred a few years back by soliciting a 13-year-old boy for sex (“Unforgiven,” Free Times, May 2008), it must have been like walking the gauntlet as he floated through the few thousand who gathered Wednesday afternoon for Cleveland’s Tea Party on Mall C.

Russo’s warts-and-all video coverage of a Sarah Palin rally in Strongsville last year went viral. He also taped the previous Cleveland tea party. And he’s written on his blog about his checkered past. Still, Russo was pretty much incognito until he stuck his camcorder in the face of 47-year-old Larry Phillips, a tall black man holding an American flag like a spear, and asked him, “How do your parents feel about you being here?”

Granted, he was one of the few black men in sight. But Phillips was having none of Russo's wanna-be Michael Moore schtick and went on a counter-offensive, following Russo around and charging him with racism.

“My parents and grandparents had to fight to have the freedom that I have to be here, wherever I want to be, today,” he told Russo at one point. Then somebody told Phillips about Russo’s conviction, which prompted him to add that bit of information to his taunts. Russo tried to skulk off, but Phillips followed, chiding him all the way.

Finally, Russo turned on Phillips and came face to face: “Suck my cock,” Russo said flatly, to which Phillips gleefully shot back, “That’s a light snack for a cat.”

An onlooker joined the game: “We’re not sending for a search party or anything,” the guy said, aiming his camera lens at Russo and snapping away. (Editor’s note to that guy: We’d love to see that shot.) Then Phillips landed his best blow: “Aren’t I a little old for you, anyway?”

Russo shook his head and parted the crowd in another direction this time, but Phillips continued to follow and taunt him. So Russo hustled off to Lakeside Avenue and flagged down a cop.

A few minutes later, with Phillips standing near the curb, still with his flag, Russo pointed him out to the officer. “He just threw me out!” Russo stammered. “I did not,” Phillips replied. “He can be here if he wants.” And so the cop merely says, “Well, then, that’s the end of it,” gets back in his car and pulls away.

Russo throws his hands up, walks back into the gathering. “He was threatening me,” says Russo, “following me around and screaming about my criminal conviction.”

Aw. Maybe he shoulda called for a wahhhmbulance.

After the cop left, Phillips kept following Russo until, eventually, he disappeared for good. Phillips stood sentry at the back of the crowd with a big satisfied smile on his face. “Hey,” he said matter-of-factly. “Nobody made him leave. But if he can ask questions, so can we.” — Dan Harkins

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