Federal investigators issued an official warning to a New York sheriff after a complaint was lodged against him for flying a pro-Trump flag on his patrol boat last summer.
While patrolling Oneida Lake during a "Flotilla for Trump" rally last August, Oswego County Sheriff Don Hilton said he proceeded to fly a "Making America Great Again" flag that a rally participant gave him, Syracuse.com reported.
Hilton later admitted he permitted the flag, which had Donald Trump's image emblazoned on it, to be flown from the government-owned patrol boat because Trump "has supported law enforcement at a time when many groups are unjustly vilifying our profession."
The incident polarized Oswego County, and many residents publicly spoke out against Hilton.
What did the federal investigator say?
The complaint alleged Hilton had violated the Hatch Act by flying the pro-Trump flag.
More from the Palladium-Times:
The Hatch Act is a federal law passed in 1939 that limits certain political activities of federal employees, in addition to some state and local government employees who work in connection with federally funded programs, according to [the U.S. Office of Special Counsel]. The Hatch Act is aimed at protecting the public workforce from partisan political influence and ensuring the nonpartisan administration of laws.
The OSC said Hilton and the Oswego County Sheriff's Office are subject to the Hatch Act because the department receives federal funding for certain activities and is therefore covered by the law.
In a letter, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel said that Hilton would face disciplinary action if he engages in overt political action again that violates the Hatch Act.
"Please be advised that if you engage in any future prohibited political activity while employed in a Hatch Act-covered position, OSC would consider such activity to be a willful and knowing violation of the law that could result in disciplinary action," Erica Hamrick, the deputy chief of the Hatch Act Unit, said.
How did Hilton respond?
Hilton told his local government leaders that he would not violate the Hatch Act again.
"I have reassured the chairman and other members of the Legislature that it will not occur again," he said, the Palladium-Times reported.
Still, Hilton said last year the incident has inspired him to "be even more vocal about the unjust and hypocritical criticism of police by anti-democracy groups and certain politicians who pander to them."
"I will do so on my own time, on my own dime… and as loudly as I can!" Hilton promised.
"I respect the right of people to have a critical opinion of what I did — this is America after all, and freedom of speech is part of what the flag stands for. But let's keep a clear-headed perspective here: I flew a political flag on taxpayers' property, yet many of the people criticizing me for that also defend rioters who destroy taxpayers' property!" Hilton went on to say.
"Is it a sign of people thinking reasonably when they support policies that excuse and set free those who commit criminal acts of violence and assault, while at the same time call for the termination of me and my Deputies simply for flying a flag? It is not," Hilton added.