Regulation madness: Veteran faces federal charges for displaying flags, taking pictures at VA park

Regulation madness: Veteran faces federal charges for displaying flags, taking pictures at VA park
A 74-year-old veteran faces criminal charges after displaying American flags and taking photos at a veterans park in Los Angeles. (Steven Senne/The Associated Press)

A 74-year-old Vietnam-era U.S. Army veteran could face federal criminal charges for displaying American flags and taking pictures outside a veterans park.

Since 2008, Robert Rosebrock has dedicated countless hours to help bring awareness to the growing problem of homeless veterans who are neglected by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Every Sunday and Memorial Day, Rosebrock and fellow veteran Ted Hayes faithfully made the trek to Los Angeles National Veterans Park to protest what they say is “the VA’s failure to make full use of the valuable West Los Angeles property for the benefit and care of veterans, particularly homeless veterans,” according to Judicial Watch. The property houses a facility for disabled veterans, but much of the land is used for unrelated purposes such as a UCLA baseball stadium and a golf course.

Last Memorial Day, Veterans Affairs police detained and cited Rosebrock for displaying two small, napkin-sized American flags on the fence surrounding the park entrance, something the officials allege is against federal regulations code 18 C.F.R. 1.28(a)(9)) clearly relating to the distribution of handbills and advertisements:

The distributing of materials such as pamphlets, handbills, and/or flyers, and the displaying of placards or posting of materials on bulletin boards or elsewhere on property is prohibited, except as authorized by the head of the facility or designee or when such distributions or displays are conducted as part of authorized Government activities.

The statute does not mention flags and aims to prevent business solicitation, so it is unclear how an American flag would be considered a “placard” or “handbill.” Troubled by the confrontation, Rosebrock documented the incident by taking several photographs of the VA police detaining him, which led to a second citation: taking unauthorized photos of a VA police officer.

VA police allege that the pictures were against code 18 C.F.R. 1.28(a)(10)), relating to photographs for news, advertising, and commercial purposes:

Photographs for news, advertising, or commercial purposes. Photographs for advertising or commercial purposes may be taken only with the written consent of the head of the facility or designee. Photographs for news purposes may be taken at entrances, lobbies, foyers, or in other places designated by the head of the facility or designee.

VA officials reasoned that because Rosebrock has taken pictures of the facility in the past that have ended up on the internet, they could legally put Rosebrock’s pictures in the “news” category and cite him for taking pictures without written consent.

The problems continued the following month when Hayes was handcuffed and detained for placing an American flag on the fence, even though both veterans allege VA officials previously told them a federal regulation allowed them to hang American flags and POW/MIA flags on the fence. In fact, the veterans can recall a specific date they hung up to 30 full-size American flags on the “Great Lawn Gate” fence without incident.

Again troubled by the event, Rosebrock decided to document the incident by taking several pictures and was once again cited for taking unauthorized photos of the VA officers. And after VA police went so far as to handcuff and detain Hayes, he was subsequently released with no charges of wrongdoing.

A hearing to dismiss the charges is scheduled on Tuesday, but if Rosebrock is found guilty on any of the three charges, the 74-year-old veteran activist could spend up to six months in federal prison.

Judicial Watch, the watchdog organization representing Rosebrock, contends his First Amendment rights were violated and that the VA police are abusing their discretion to punish Rosebrock for his peaceful protests to fight for better care of veterans.

“We still hold out hope that Jeff Sessions’ Department of Justice will put an early and deserved end to this case,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “Rosebrock’s rights have been repeatedly and needlessly violated.  No public good can be served by prosecuting a 74-year-old veteran over the placement of two small American Flags at the entrance to a park honoring veterans on Memorial Day.”

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