Urbana man gets $15,000 in settlement of flag-burning lawsuit

Urbana man gets $15,000 in settlement of flag-burning lawsuit

URBANA — An Urbana man who was arrested and detained for five hours on Independence Day 2016 after posting a picture of himself burning an American flag on Facebook the night before will receive $15,000 as part of a settlement reached in a federal civil-rights lawsuit he filed in January.

Bryton Mellott, 22, who was represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois and the Schiff Hardin law firm, will also receive $20,000 for attorneys' fees in the settlement of his lawsuit against four members of the Urbana Police Department who arrested him under Illinois' 1989 flag-desecration law, which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional that same year.

In June, U.S. District Court Judge Colin Bruce ruled that burning a flag was constitutionally protected free speech and allowed the case to continue.

"At that point, it was just a matter of reaching a settlement that both sides could agree with and that we thought would send a message to law enforcement about the enforcement of this statute," Rebecca Glenberg, an attorney for the ACLU of Illinois, told WDWS radio.

The Urbana Police Department and the officers' attorney were unavailable for comment Monday after the announcement of the settlement. The defendants named were officers Kenneth Sprague, Jeremy Hale, Matthew McElhoe and Andrew Charles.

Glenberg also called on the Illinois General Assembly to repeal the state's flag-desecration law.

"It's really a shame that this statute is still on the books when the Supreme Court has held repeatedly that burning the flag is protected by the First Amendment, and it was the fact that this statute still exists that led these police officers to mistakenly arrest our client for burning a flag," Glenberg said.

In a statement, Mellott said he was pleased with Bruce's ruling that his actions were protected.

"While this is a fact the police department should have known already, I certainly hope that they have learned from their mistake," he said.

In January, Mellott said he burned the flag "to address the issue of gun violence in our country that has existed needlessly and without intervention" and "to address the issue of violence brought against members of my queer community and against every community considered to be 'other.'"

He also referenced the June 12, 2016, shooting massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., where 49 people were killed.

"Specifically, that's what made me think about this post," Mellott said then. "That was what inspired a lot of the text that I had included with the picture."

The day after Mellott's arrest, Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Rietz said he would not be charged and acknowledged that the Illinois statute contradicted a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

At the time of Mellott's arrest, Urbana police said in a statement that they were concerned about the possibility of violence because of "the volume of responses and specificity of threat against his place of employment," the Savoy Walmart.

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BruckJr wrote on September 18, 2017 at 8:09 pm

Is this a great country or what?  Who has to pay the fine?

Copyleft1 wrote on September 20, 2017 at 6:09 am

It was probably waived, since the charge was legally invalidated.

BruckJr wrote on September 20, 2017 at 3:09 pm

Scratching head.

GLG wrote on September 18, 2017 at 8:09 pm

Maybe  Rep. Carol Ammons - D Urbana, could introduce a bill to have the  law taken off the books? A little bi partisan help with the Republicans joining in.  These  so called public servents like to brag about crossing the aisle and working together. I  asked about getting this law taken off the books when this happened and got no respone.   

doubley wrote on September 18, 2017 at 10:09 pm

Hopefully he will spend his money on a one way ticket to a different country!

rsp wrote on September 19, 2017 at 12:09 am

Why should people need to a different country to express different views than yours? The whole point of this country and our flag is not having the government tell us what to think, who to worship, what we can say, etc. The Supreme Court has stated that burning a flag falls under the First Amendment. I am always amazed that people care more about a piece of fabric made in China than the rights it stands for.

Caring more about a cheap cloth than the rights men (and women) gave their lives for is more of a disgrace than burning a flag for political reasons. If someone burns a flag for a political reason, they may know the value behind it but not believe we are living up to that standard.

doubley wrote on September 19, 2017 at 3:09 am

You are right, he is entitled to do what he did, and I am entitled to my opinion. My opinion is he disrespected every person who ever died for that flag, so that he might have the right to burn it.

Flags_are_dumb wrote on September 19, 2017 at 11:09 am

The people you think you have the right to speak for, they died for country, family, friends, ideals. They didn't die for a flag. Flags are dumb. Anyone who dies "for a flag", we're probably better off without.

Copyleft1 wrote on September 20, 2017 at 6:09 am

That's your opinion, and that's fine. The point is that legally, he did nothing wrong.

Notsoaveragejoe wrote on September 19, 2017 at 7:09 am

Just because something is legal doesn't make it right. This kid needs an education about what the flag symbolizes and all the people who fought for it and those that put themselves in harm's way or died. It is an unspoken symbol that says a lot and means a lot. A disrespectful move from a very immature and entitled snowflake.

Copyleft1 wrote on September 20, 2017 at 6:09 am

You mean the kind of 'snowflake' who whines about being offended by someone else's perfectly harmless and legal actions? Freedom means that nobody has to satisfy your demands for 'respect.'

aantulov wrote on September 19, 2017 at 8:09 am

If the law is still on the books, then the officers were only doing their jobs.

The only reason this person is getting $15,000 is because the ACLU came down with lawyers and cost to the city was mounting, from what this article says.

There are citizens in this country being denied education, housing and access to goverment process, library self education basics to liberty.

Why does the ACLU choose to defend this man? Perhaps those writing them checks should start asking.

Maybe those who have loved ones in the military or have lost them or have had them come home other than the condition that they left should post a letter to this young man, who thought so little of the flag. Couldnt hurt, might help.

 

rsp wrote on September 20, 2017 at 3:09 am

The United States Supreme Court said we have the right to burn the flag. He didn't get money because the ACLU came to represent him. He could have represented himself and got money.

They violated his rights. And the officers were not doing their jobs. They should have called the SA for legal advice. There was no emergency. They would have been told the law was invalid.

Copyleft1 wrote on September 20, 2017 at 6:09 am

Correct. There are plenty of low-level laws still "on the books" that are in fact invalid. We really need a mechanism to clear up that kind of conflict.

RatDog wrote on September 20, 2017 at 10:09 am

Those cops weren’t doing their jobs. Their job is not to support an unconstitutional law. What those cops did was to kidnap this man & unlawfully detain him. They raped this man of his civil rights.  That’s not their job. What the cops did was incompetence at best & criminal at worst & they should be fired.

CallSaul wrote on September 19, 2017 at 10:09 am

As with pretty much everything else, the rightwing reactionaries are being hypocrites about this...

One of our local RWNJ trolls, JamBam, recently had the nerve to unilaterally declare that a pastor featured in the in the NG didn't actually represent a 'real' religion because he doesn't like that particular religion.

And this isn't even the usual bigoted attack on Islam not be a 'real religion' that so many RWNJs spew so often...

They caterwaul and flail their arms yelling about religious freedom when it suits their regressive agenda. But if they perceive someone ele's religion as not being suitably regressive, they simply declare by fiat that it's not in fact a religion.

Similarly, the RWNJs shriek and whine whenever anyone uses their freedom of expression to dare to express an opinion they don't approve of...

As others have noted, they're eager to sacrifice actaul freedom --- as practiced by other people, of course --- in the service of mindlessly worshipping a mere symbol of that freedom.

The sheer ignorance and self defeating idiocy of such a position is astounding, really... 

Annotator wrote on September 19, 2017 at 11:09 am

"As others have noted, they're eager to sacrifice actaul freedom --- as practiced by other people, of course --- in the service of mindlessly worshipping a mere symbol of that freedom.

The sheer ignorance and self defeating idiocy of such a position is astounding, really..."

The only reason you have the right and ability to post here, without negative consequences, is exactly what you deride in your posts.

CallSaul wrote on September 19, 2017 at 11:09 am

The reason we all have freedom of expression is because I and plenty others are willing to fight --- to whatever degree necessary --- to protect it from people who want to put limits on what we can say and do by unilaterally declaring that only the forms of protest speech that they agree with are acceptable.

Why don't you go ahead and try --- I mean, really try --- to limit the right of protest to what you personally deem proper and let's see what happens...

Annotator wrote on September 20, 2017 at 4:09 pm

"The reason we all have freedom of expression is because I and plenty others are willing to fight --- to whatever degree necessary --- to protect it from people who want to put limits on what we can say and do by unilaterally declaring that only the forms of protest speech that they agree with are acceptable.

Why don't you go ahead and try --- I mean, really try --- to limit the right of protest to what you personally deem proper and let's see what happens...
"

I pointed out that the reason you have the right and ability to post here, is the same rights and abilities all of the rest of us possess to do the same.  You aren't someone special "chicken feather commenter".

CallSaul wrote on September 20, 2017 at 5:09 pm

Huh...?

That comment is even more garbled and nonsensical than the usual RWNJ gibberish posted here...

What point are you laboring so hard, yet so tragically ineffectually, to make...?

What is it you believe I deride in my posts...?

Annotator wrote on September 22, 2017 at 4:09 pm

The symbol of our country.  We follow the flag into battle to give you the freedom to post here.

CallSaul wrote on September 22, 2017 at 4:09 pm

Wrongity wrong wrong wrong.

A piece of cloth doesn't ensure out right to free expression.

That right is secured by the commitment of citizens --- enough of us, anyway --- to protecting everyone's right to free expression, regardless of whether you and the other deluded RWNJs personally approve of it or not. 

Freedom of expression is not secured by sanctifying a piece of cloth made in China. 

Most rightwing reactionaries are incapable of understanding this but guess what? It's still true even if it flies way over your head...

claudethefox wrote on September 19, 2017 at 1:09 pm

Hmm it looks like flag burning may be more lucrative than being employed by Walmart.

Hartree wrote on September 19, 2017 at 6:09 pm

This is a real business opportunity.

I could live just fine burning three or four flags a year. Do they have to be US flags, or do I get to choose?

Bystander wrote on September 20, 2017 at 12:09 pm
Profile Picture

You'd have to get arrested for your flag burning operation and it's doubtful the police are going to make that mistake again. 

wayward wrote on September 20, 2017 at 12:09 am

Those who were offended by the flag burning might not want to reward him with attention.

cjw61822@hotmail.com wrote on September 20, 2017 at 7:09 am

UPD just gave teh wrong charge... it should have been open burning which is illegal in both Champaign and Urbana.

 

Problem solved and the City saved 15k

cwakefld wrote on September 20, 2017 at 2:09 pm

If you do not believe in freedom of expression for those you despise, you do not believe in it at all.

 

The freedom to express unpopular ideas, and active dissent against the government are some of the core tennants that this country was founded on.

It is what freedom is.

CallSaul wrote on September 23, 2017 at 3:09 pm

And of course we now have the head rightwing reactionary authoritarian calling for citizens to be fired from their job for the crime of expressing views he disapproves of.

Just like the local RWNJ trolls, he doesn't care actual free expression protected by the first amendment. When these trolls whine and screech about the right to free expression, they only do so when they or someone they view as in their 'tribe' faces consequences for racist or otherwise bigoted rantings.

Trump called nazis, KKK goons and murduring white supremacist terrorists and their marching buddies 'very fine people.'

But I can't even repeat here what the president of the United States called citizens who express views he disapproves of because the NG editors would delete my comment for including it...

And of course the Republican president also called for these people to be fired because he disagrees with them.

These are not people who support free expression or any other individual rights. They never did and they never will...