Buncombe County Sheriff Van Duncan told the Xpress this afternoon that he regrets the turn of events surrounding the July 25 arrests of activists Mark and Deborah Kuhn on flag-desecration charges. Meanwhile, Xpress has learned the flag law was declared unconstitutional in a 1971 N.C. district court ruling.
“I regret that it happened this way — we’re not trying to enforce that statute,” Duncan said. “We had internal affairs investigators in the neighborhood today. I’ve met with the Kuhns personally. We’re talking to the District Attorney, we’re talking to their attorney and we’re trying to get this resolved.”
The Kuhns (who are pictured, post-arrest, at right) had hung an American flag upside down on the porch of their West Asheville home, and attached to it a picture of President Bush with the words “out now” and several messages explaining the meaning of their statement.
Sheriff’s Deputy Brian Scarborough received a complaint from fellow National Guardsman Staff Sgt. Mark Radford that morning. He proceeded to assert that the couple had violated a rarely enforced 1917 statute banning desecration of the U.S. flag. The Kuhns took the flag down and refused Scarborough’s request to present their IDs, closing and locking their door.
The Kuhns, along with witnesses and neighbors, assert that Scarborough then broke into the house and assaulted them. The sheriff’s office reports state that Mark Kuhn slammed the door on Scarborough’s hand, injuring him.
The couple was then arrested and charged with desecrating the flag, assaulting an officer and resisting arrest.
Duncan confirmed that the sheriff’s office usually passes nonemergency calls within the city to the Asheville Police Department, which had already visited the couple on July 18 and decided not to try to enforce the statute.
“We would normally not have handled the situation that way,” Duncan said. “We’re looking into it right now and trying to see how we can proceed to make sure an incident like this doesn’t happen again.”
Meanwhile, today Xpress learned that, in addition to U.S. Supreme Court decisions ruling that political uses of the flag are protected speech, North Carolina’s statute was declared unconstitutional in a 1971 ruling by the District Court of Western North Carolina. “Enacted during a period of national chauvinistic fervor, it [the flag-desecration law] is an uncommonly bad statute,” Circuit Judge James Craven Jr. wrote in the ruling. “Despite our respect, and indeed love, for these symbols of state and nation, we are compelled to hold the statute unconstitutional.”
For an in-depth report on the incident, which has sparked controversy in Western North Carolina and attracted national attention, see the Wednesday, Aug. 1, issue of Mountain Xpress. Visit www.mountainx.com for breaking news on the story.
— David Forbes, staff writer
photo by Jonathan Welch