The Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office arrested activists Mark and Deborah Kuhn in West Asheville Wednesday morning after a complaint that the couple was desecrating an American flag. They say a deputy invaded their home and used excessive force. [The photo at right, taken by a neighbor, shows Mark on the ground, with Deborah standing by, during the arrest.]
The flag was hung upside down as an act of protest and had several statements pinned to it, including a picture of President Bush with the words “Out Now” upon it and one explaining the meaning of the upside down flag, a sign of distress.
The Kuhns, along with several neighbors and witnesses, assert that a sheriff’s deputy violently invaded their home at 68 Brevard Road. The sheriff’s office claims that the couple assaulted deputy Brian Scarborough and resisted arrest.
According to the report from the sheriff’s office, Scarborough arrived at the home at 8:45 a.m. in response to a complaint about the desecration of a flag.
Lt. Randy Sorrell says that while the address was in the city of Asheville, “when we receive a complaint that the law is being broken, we have to respond.”
Under a rarely enforced state statute, it is a misdemeanor to desecrate or trample a U.S. or North Carolina flag. The Kuhns said the flag was taken as evidence, though the sheriff’s department has no record of it.
After knocking on the door, the couple answered it and, after being shown the statute, said they complied and took the flag down. Scarborough then asked for their identification.
“The flag covered our whole front porch; he comes up with this printout about the law and tells us that we can’t attach things to the flag, that we’re desecrating it,” Deborah Kuhn said. “We tell him we’re not meaning to desecrate it — all we had was a picture of [President] Bush with ‘out now’ on it and a note saying this was not a sign of distress or disrespect. We did this because the country is in distress and we don’t know what to do.”
Then, she said, Scarborough “started talking arrest, so we took the flag down. He kept wanting to see our ID. We refused. We said, ‘Why should we show you our ID — are you arresting us?’; so we walked back into the house and closed the door.”
There, the accounts diverge. According to Deborah Kuhn, Scarborough “tried to force the door, but we got it closed and locked it with the deadbolt. He then kicked it, punched the glass out, unlocked our door and came after us.”
The sheriff’s office report states that “the man [Mark Kuhn] refused to identify himself and slammed the door on the officer’s hand, breaking the glass pane out of the door and cutting the officer’s hand.”
However, the Kuhns’ account is backed up by Jimmy Stevenson, who was working with Ace Hardwood Floors nearby and asserts that he saw Scarborough break down the door.
“I saw that one cop [Scarborough] pull up and I saw those people come out on the porch and start talking to him,” Stevenson said. “They took their flag down, asked the officer to leave and closed the door. Then he started kicking the door, he kicked it about five or six good times, then he laid right into it. After he got done kicking it, he broke the window out – I saw him hit the window.”
Deborah Kuhn says that Scarborough then “pursued my husband into the kitchen, they were scuffling, [and] Mark was trying to get away from him. He pulls out his billy club and I call 911 and say that an officer has broken into our house and is assaulting us.”
Scarborough sustained a cut to his arm when the window broke and Mark Kuhn had several cuts on his face from the scuffle with Scarborough.
“I was just trying to defend myself and back away from him,” Kuhn said. “They never, ever told us why we were being arrested until we were in jail.”
Deborah Kuhn asserted that no warrant was displayed or permission asked to enter the house. After calling 911, she says, she ran outside and began screaming for help.
Sam York, who lives nearby the couple, was awakened by the struggle, as the Kuhns and Scarborough both came out into the yard. “I woke up to Debbie screaming,” he said. “Mark and Debbie were saying ‘you assaulted us’ and the officer [Scarborough], was demanding their identification. Then another officer threatened them with a taser. He told Debbie to back away or he’d taser her and demanded that Mark get on the ground.”
Sorrell confirms this part of the account: “When they were outside, one of the other officers produced a taser and he [Mark Kuhn] surrendered and submitted.”
Deborah Kuhn’s screams also drew the attention of Shawn Brady and several of his roommates, who live next door to the couple. “I run outside and ask them what’s going on and there’s cops chasing Mark around his car,” Brady said. “They threaten to taser him and demand that he get on the ground. He gets on the ground and we ask them what they’re being charged with. They tell us it’s none of our concern. I tell them they’re our neighbors and it is our concern.”
Neal Wilson, who lives with Brady, also saw the deputy produce the taser, he says. After repeated questions, Brady and roommate Tony Plichta said that the deputies replied that “they didn’t know yet” what the couple would be charged with.
“This is an outrage,” Brady said. “The 1st, 4th and 5th Amendments were clearly broken today.”
Plichta expressed similar anger. “They actually wanted to know why we cared — these are our neighbors,” he said.
Following the arrest, the Kuhns were taken to the Buncombe County Detention Facility, where they were charged with two counts of assaulting a government official, and one count each of resisting arrest and desecrating an American flag. Their son posted their bail shortly afterwards.
This was not the first time that the flag had attracted attention. On July 18, with just the upside-down flag hanging, an Asheville police officer stopped by to inquire about the situation.
“He was very polite and just said that because it was a sign of distress, he wanted to make sure everything was OK,” Deborah Kuhn said. “We said we had it out as a show of desperation — our country is in distress and we just don’t know what to do. We asked if we had violated any ordinance. He said, ‘No, you have every right.’”
After that, Deborah Kuhn said that she posted up the picture of Bush and the explanation of their reasons for displaying the flag in protest.
A couple of days later, Mark Kuhn said that a man in military fatigues came to their door, and was driving a car with a federal license plate. “He stood here telling me that I needed to take the flag down or fly it right,” he said.
Kuhn adds that he assumed the man was with the National Guard, due to the nearby armory.
Wilson, Plichta and Brady said that after the man stopped by, they also saw him drive by several times during the following days, and one night, witnessed several other men in fatigues taking pictures of the flag.
Furthermore, Wilson said that as the Kuhns were being arrested and taken off, he saw a man in fatigues drive by and shout “Go to jail, baby!”
After his experience, Mark Kuhn said he is convinced this is not an isolated occurrence. “If Americans don’t wake up to the martial state we’re in, the cops, the police, the sheriffs, the state police will all come to our door and take us away if we allow this to happen – it’s time for America to wake up.”
— David Forbes, staff writer