Man who claimed he had Constitutional right to take down Pride flag from city hall found not guilty

Maggie Baska June 4, 2021
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Donnie Lee Barrigar Pride flag 

Donnie Lee Barrigar, 37, has been found not guilty of criminal tampering after he took down an LGBT+ Pride flag in front of a city hall building in Watertown, New York in June 2020. (WWNY)

A man who took down an LGBT+ Pride flag in front of a city hall building in New York has been found not guilty of criminal tapering.

The Watertown Daily Times reported Donnie Lee Barrigar, 37, was found not guilty of third-degree criminal tampering Wednesday (2 June) after he took down an LGBT+ Pride flag, which hung in front of Watertown City Hall. The jury deliberated for only 45 minutes before coming back with their not guilty verdict.

Prosecutor Nolan Pitkin said he “respected” the jury’s decision, adding he thought his office “presented the best possible proof we could prove”.

The two-day trial and verdict came almost a year after Barrigar posted a video of himself taking down the Pride flag to his YouTube channel last June, according to The news website reported Barrigar stuffed the Pride flag into a dropbox outside city hall. He was charged on 23 June 2020 with criminal tampering in relation to the events.

The Watertown Daily Times reported that the jury in the case was asked whether Barrigar’s actions caused a “substantial inconvenience” to anyone in order to correct the situation, but the prosecutors were unable to prove that it did.

Barrigar told WWNY shortly after taking down the Pride flag last year that he did it because the flag was “mocking God” and “all the good Christians we have in our community”. He also claimed that he was “covered under the First Amendment right” because “we have the right for protesting and that includes flags”.

However, city court judge Anthony M Neddo ruled Barrigar could not argue that his constitutional rights were violated in the case.

John W Hallett, Barrigar’s attorney, said he wasn’t surprised by the ruling but said he wished the case hadn’t attracted widespread media attention which produced “vehement hatred” on both sides of the issue.

Last year, Watertown mayor Jeff Smith condemned Barrigar’s actions which he said were motivated by “ignorance” and “intolerance” because “he has a problem”.

“It’s just shameful that this person can’t put away his personal issues and let the flag fly,” Smith told WWNY at the time. “He professes to be a Christian and part of that is accepting other people for who they are, not putting your will onto them.”

Barrigar’s actions even drew the attention of New York governor Andrew Cuomo who said Barrigar “must be held accountable” for taking down the Pride flag. WWNY reported that Cuomo said in a statement that he was “disgusted by the actions of this individual” who he said launched a “repugnant attack against the LGBTQ community”.

“These hateful acts of division have no place in our state and we will not allow a bigot to bully the Watertown community with impunity,” Cuomo said.

Related topics: New York, Pride, pride flag

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