PATASKALA, Ohio (WCMH) — When the father of a small-town police chief killed in the line of duty was instructed by his homeowners association to take down a Thin Blue Line flag he’d flown for years, he didn’t know where to turn.
Frustrated and upset, Thomas DiSario contacted NBC4 with the story of how the flag had flown at his Etna residence off and on for years since Steven Eric DiSario became one of three people killed at a Kirkersville nursing home in 2017. Thomas DiSario’s son was 38 years old and the father of seven children.
But in the days leading up to Tuesday, which is Flag Day, the situation looked different — for not only was DiSario’s flag still flying, but he had been joined by several neighbors, all flying Thin Blue Line flags in defiance and support.
“We heard about Mr. DiSario and what he was going through,” Mike King said. “And I think a lot of us took it upon ourselves to find flags ourselves so that we could put them up to show our support.”
There are at least four Thin Blue Line flags flying in front of homes on King’s street alone.
“[DiSario] definitely has a right to, I believe, fly that flag, and he has our support. He’s gone through a lot,” King said. “I can’t even envision a world without law and order. I feel we’re already on the edge of things, so I think we all got to band together here.”
Other flag fights in central Ohio
Since the story ran, the National Police Association — a police advocacy group — got in touch with DiSario. They are talking with a lawyer about the situation.
This isn’t the first legal fight between the NPA and an HOA. On May 26, the NPA and Joseph and Christine Swantack of New Albany filed a complaint in federal court against the New Albany Park Condominium Association and Lifestyle Property Management.
The Swantacks flew a Thin Blue Line flag outside of their New Albany Park condo and received fines and legal threats, the complaint alleged.
“This action concerns the suppression of NPA and the Swantacks’ First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and expression through action by Defendants in preventing the Swantacks from flying the ‘Thin Blue Line’ flag owned by NPA outside of the Swantacks’ private residence,” the complaint alleges.
NPA and the Swantacks are asking that the prevention of displaying the Thin Blue Line flag be declared unconstitutional. It also asks for interest, costs, and attorney fees.
What does the Thin Blue Line flag mean?
“The symbolism of the Thin Blue Line is uniquely American, symbolizing an American ideal – that the police are the public and the public are the police, and that local law enforcement is accountable to the community, in partnership with the community, and not part of the military or the federal government,” Joel F. Shults wrote on the National Police Association website in a section about the history of the flag.
In Arizona, the governor recently signed a bill allowing homeowners to fly flags supporting the country, military, first responders, and law enforcement regardless of homeowner’s associations’ rules.
However, some police departments have chosen not to allow the flag to be flown at work.
When DiSario was told to take down his flag by his homeowners association, David Dye, president of the Omni Community Association Managers, told NBC4: “The community where DiSario bought his home, Cumberland Crossing, had deed restrictions put in place when it was developed, rules that he has to follow.
“They bought into the community with rules. He agreed by buying in this community that he can’t display what he wants to display.”
Those restrictions were included in filings with the Licking County recorder, and they can be construed to include the Thin Blue Line flag, he said.