PITTSBURGH – A man arrested for painting the letters "AIM" on an American flag that he flew upside-down at his house in protest has settled his free speech lawsuit against the township for more than $55,000.
Supervisors in Allegheny Township, Blair County, have approved letting their insurance company pay Joshuaa Brubaker, the Altoona Mirror first reported Friday. The supervisors approved a resolution on July 12 advising township police to no longer enforce the state's flag desecration laws as part of the settlement, notice of which was filed Tuesday in federal court in Johnstown.
"The problem is that every couple years we get a report that someone's been charged with insulting the flag or desecrating the flag under Pennsylvania laws," said Sara Rose, the American Civil Liberties Union attorney who filed the lawsuit in February. "The U.S. Supreme Court law is very clear that you cannot charge someone with using the flag for expressive purposes, like drawing on it or burning it."
Brubaker, 39, is part Native American and says "AIM" stands for the American Indian Movement. Brubaker flew the flag on his porch in May 2014 about 90 miles east of Pittsburgh. He was protesting plans to route the proposed Keystone Pipeline through Wounded Knee, South Dakota.
Wounded Knee is the site of a U.S. Cavalry massacre of some 200 Lakota Indians in 1890. In 1973, the Indian reservation town of the same name was seized by AIM and other activists in a 71-day standoff with federal law enforcement.
The dispute with the township began when another resident -- an Army veteran who also happens to be part Native American -- was offended by the display and contacted police.
Leo Berg III, who was then assistant chief but now heads the township department, seized the flag and charged Brubaker with violating two state laws: insulting the national flag, a second-degree misdemeanor that carries up to two years in prison and a $5,000 fine, and flag desecration, a third-degree misdemeanor carrying up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine.
A Blair County judge dismissed the criminal charges against Brubaker a few months after they were filed, finding they didn't apply in a case involving political speech.
Brubaker told The Associated Press when the lawsuit was filed why he displayed the flag the way he did.
"I figured with this generation, if someone drove by this house and saw AIM" that they'd search for the term online and learn more about the group and its causes, Brubaker said. Flying a flag upside-down is also a distress signal, and Brubaker said he believed the country is in distress.
Brubaker must pay his own attorneys' fees and expenses and any taxes out of the $55,844 he'll receive, according to the settlement.