Illinois man sues police over flag
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[January 13, 2017]
By Timothy Mclaughlin
CHICAGO (Reuters) - An Illinois man is
suing members of a local police department alleging his rights were
violated when he was arrested last year after he posted photos of
himself burning an American flag on social media and they were shared
widely, according to court documents.
Bryton Mellott, 22, of Urbana, Illinois, a city around 140 miles (225
km) south of Chicago, set an American flag on fire on July 3 in a
friend's backyard to protest the conditions of many Americans' lives. He
then posted photos to Facebook along with an explanation of his actions,
according to court documents filed on Wednesday.
Many states, including Illinois, continue to have flag desecration laws
on the books, though the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that burning of
the flag is protected as an expression of free speech.
The Urbana Police Department did not immediately respond to a request
for comment on Thursday.
Mellott's lawsuit alleges that four Urbana police officers violated his
right to free speech and detained him without reason. The American Civil
Liberties Union is representing Mellott. The lawsuit was filed in the
U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois.
“I am not proud to be an American. In this moment, being proud of my
country is to ignore the atrocities committed against people of color,
people living in poverty, people who identify as women, and against my
own queer community on a daily basis," Mellott wrote last year in the
caption accompanying his photos, according to court documents.
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He ended his post, "#ArrestMe."
By the following morning, the post had been shared widely and attracted
numerous comments. An officer from the Urbana Police Department called
Mellott and told him to take the post down, according to court
documents. Mellott declined to do so, saying it had already been shared
Later in the day, Mellott was arrested by Urbana officers for violating
the state's flag desecration statue. He was detained for around five
However, Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Rietz declined to
charge Mellott, citing the Supreme Court rulings, and Mellott was
President-elect Donald Trump briefly waded into the debate over flag
burning last year, when he said in a message on Twitter that there "must
be consequences" for burning the flag. He suggested those who do so face
loss of citizenship or jail time.
(Editing by Matthew Lewis)
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