Flag burning investigation continues | SummitDaily.com

Flag burning investigation continues

FRISCO – To many Summit County residents, the decimation of the American flag placed on Peak 1 in honor of the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks was violent, unpatriotic and cowardly. To others, it’s a form of free speech.

But mutilating the flag may also be a crime – punishable by law.

The Summit County Sheriff’s Office is “aggressively” investigating the burning of the Peak 1 flag and Sheriff Joe Morales said he feels confident the investigation will be successful.

“I have a sense that it’s somebody locally,” Morales said.

The person(s) who burned the flag likely followed the progression of events over the past several weeks, as the Forest Service first denied a permit to allow the second commemorative hike up Peak 1 to replace the flag and then reversed its decision and granted permission.

“Somebody knows something, and I feel confident that citizens will do the right thing and provide information to law enforcement so we can move forward,” Morales said.

The Sheriff’s Office has retrieved the remnants of the mutilated flag and is attempting to locate the notes left at the scene as evidence in the investigation. The approximately 10-by-15 foot flag appears to have been slashed or cut and then burned.

According to a Colorado Revised Statute, it is unlawful for any person to mutilate any flag in public with intent to cast contempt or ridicule on the flag or to outrage the persons liable to observe or discover the results.

Should the Sheriff’s Office succeed in finding a suspect, the District Attorney’s Office could pursue the mutilation charge and/or criminal mischief, said Mark Hurlbert, district attorney for the Fifth Judicial District, which includes Summit County.

The arsonist didn’t buy a flag from the store and burn it on the courthouse steps in protest, he said, but destroyed someone else’s property.

The penalties for mutilation, a class 3 misdemeanor, is up to six months in the county jail and for criminal mischief – for a flag that cost several hundred dollars – up to one year in county jail, Hurlbert said.

“This has offended and outraged a lot of people – people are really upset by this,” Morales said. “I’m pretty outraged over it myself. It’s pretty pathetic. Regardless of how people feel about it, it wasn’t the right thing to do.

“This is a really special monument,” he added. “When it comes to 9-11 monuments, it’s one of the most beautiful in the United States.”

A group of hikers made the difficult trek up the steep mountain to erect the flag on Sept. 16, 2001, as a memorial to the victims of the terrorist attacks. On the following two anniversaries, hikers climbed the mountain again to replace the weathered and tattered flag.

While many locals looked at the flag with pride, there are others who would prefer it not be there.

According to notes left at the scene, the American flag is “a symbol of genocide and fascism; as offensive as the Nazi swastika,” and the burning was to “recognize the preciousness of all life and lives in this “global village.'”

“It’s sad, but the American flag is becoming a symbol of war and the curtailing of civil rights, when it should be a symbol of peace and freedom,” said Doug Malkan, a local political activist and leader. “I think this guy who burned the flag had something to say. He chose a radical way to say it but, nonetheless, he had something to say that represents the views of (many).”

There are a number of ways to express one’s opposition to government policies, including becoming an activist, participating in protests or rallies, writing letters to one’s local newspaper and exercising one’s right to vote.

“Some are expressing their anger at the Bush administration by flag burning,” Malkan said. “It doesn’t mean you hate your country. Far from it. They are people who care very deeply about their country and can’t stand seeing it move in the wrong direction.”

Kurt Kizer, who organized the first hike in 2001 and the two commemorative hikes, said Tuesday he isn’t sure whether he’ll organize another one to replace the decimated flag for fear it, too, will be burned in protest. Others have said they want to resurrect the flag.

If they choose to make the trek up the mountain once more, there’s no guarantee the Forest Service will grant a permit.

Though she expects the agency will receive numerous requests to replace the flag, Sue Froeschle, public affairs officer for the White River National Forest, said it has yet to receive any.

“No one has contacted us regarding the replacement of the flag,” Froeschle said. “Until we receive something firm, it’s really hard to speculate as to what we might do.”

Everist Materials, which has donated the memorial flag for the past two years, has offered to replace the flag once more.

Lu Snyder can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 203, or lsnyder@summitdaily.com

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