On the morning of 7/4/16, the Urbana police department began receiving calls concerning a Facebook post that portrayed Bryton Mellott, a citizen of Urbana, burning an American flag. The images and narrative in the post caused some to call and request police action against Mellott and others to call and express concern for the safety of Mellott and those around him. Officers viewed the post and saw that there were a rapidly growing number of social media responses. Many threatened violence against Mellott and his place of employment, which fielded a large volume of calls regarding the post.
Given the volume of responses and specificity of threat against his place of employment (a location where an act of violence would likely cause harm to others), prompted police involvement in this case. After investigating the incident and speaking to both Mellott and his employer [Walmart -EV], Mellott was placed under arrest for flag desecration. The police report lists Mellott as an offender of both flag desecration and disorderly conduct as well as a victim of disorderly conduct. After consulting with a member of the States Attorney’s Office, Mellott was released from custody and given a notice to appear in court. Mellott’s release was due to questions about the constitutionality of the 2013 Illinois flag desecration law.
The Urbana Police department recognizes that this is a case where the right of free speech comes into conflict with the safety of uninvolved citizens. The actions taken in this case have been to try to assure the safety of the public and Mr. Mellott. The Urbana Police urge the public to express themselves in a peaceful way and to not retaliate against unpopular speech.
Lt. Joel R. Sanders
Urbana Police Department