Will Jeff Sessions’ Department of Justice (DOJ) continue wasting taxpayer dollars to criminally prosecute a 74-year-old U.S. Army veteran for posting two American Flags in a southern California Veterans Administration facility? The absurd case was initiated under President Obama, but is set to go to trial in federal court next month under new DOJ leadership. The military veteran faces up to six months in jail for the ghastly offense of affixing Old Glory at a site honoring those who served their country. Judicial Watch reached out to Sessions’ office but has not heard back from the new Attorney General after various attempts via telephone and electronic mail with the DOJ’s Office of Public Affairs.
Here’s some background; U.S. Army veteran Robert Rosebrock posted a pair of four-by-six-inch American Flags on the outside fence of a VA facility in West Los Angeles on Memorial Day in 2016. The fence is part of the “Great Lawn Gate” and marks the entrance to the Los Angeles National Veterans Park. The public facility is part of a larger, 388-acre parcel that includes the Veterans Home of West Los Angeles. Since 2008, Rosebrock and a group of fellow veterans have assembled at the gate weekly and on Memorial Day to protest the VA’s failure to make full use of the property to benefit veterans, particularly those who are homeless.
The parcel was deeded to the federal government in 1888 for the specific purpose of caring for disabled veterans. Though it includes the veterans’ homey, the property is also used for a number of unrelated causes. Among them is a stadium for the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) baseball team, an athletic complex for a nearby private high school, laundry facilities for a local hotel, storage and maintenance of production sets for 20th Century Fox Television, the Brentwood Theatre, soccer practice and match fields for a private girls’ soccer club, a dog park, and a farmer’s market.
Rosebrock and his veterans group were previously advised by VA officials a federal regulation allowed the hanging of the American Flag and the POW/MIA (Prisoner of War/Missing in Action) flag on the “Great Lawn Gate” fence and dozens of full-size American Flags appeared on the fence at once without incident. But the VA later claimed that it erred in allowing the flags because it incorrectly interpreted the applicable regulation. Since then, the VA has cited Rosebrock for violating the provision on more than 15 occasions, but the charges were always dropped until now. Read the flag citation here. The feds are also criminally prosecuting Rosebrock for taking pictures of a VA Police officer while the officer detained and cited him for posting the two small American Flags on the fence. A separate count charges him with taking photos of a conservative African-American activist, dressed as Uncle Sam, being handcuffed for hanging a large American Flag on the same fence. The activist, Ted Hayes, was not charged with any wrongdoing though he was detained and cuffed like a criminal.
Various federal courts and the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ have recognized a First Amendment right to record police activity. In fact, in 2012 the DOJ ordered the Baltimore City Police Department to adopt policies that “affirmatively set forth the First Amendment right to record police activity,” yet that same agency is prosecuting Rosebrock for recording police at the VA. “Recording governmental officers engaged in public duties is a form of speech through which private individuals may gather and disseminate information of public concern, including the conduct of law enforcement officers,” the DOJ writes in its mandate to Baltimore Police. The measure is intended to apply to other law enforcement agencies nationwide.
Rosebrock’s trial is scheduled for March 7 in a Los Angeles federal court before U.S. Magistrate Judge Steve Kim. Judicial Watch and Los Angeles attorney Robert P. Sticht are representing Rosebrock served in the U.S. Army in the 1960s at the Schofield Barracks in Hawaii.