PATASKALA, Ohio (WCMH) — Five years and one week ago, a gunman killed three people at a Licking County, Ohio, nursing home.
The father of one of those victims — who was the newly appointed police chief in Kirkersville at the time — has flown a Thin Blue Line flag at his Etna home off and on since then.
But this week, which is National Police Week, he received a letter from his homeowners’ association telling him to take the flag down. And he had to call the county sheriff after a man not affiliated with the homeowners’ group walked onto his property and tried to remove it.
“It’s been flying since the 12th of May 2017,” said Thomas DiSario, giving the date his son died. “The only time it comes down [is] if it’s worn out and I buy a new one and put it back up.”
Gift from law enforcement
The flag did come down over the winter, though, as DiSario said the flagpole on his property was bent and it took until earlier this month for it to be replaced.
The original flag was a gift from law enforcement colleagues of Steven Eric DiSario, the first to respond to a call at the Pine Kirk Care Center. Sheriff deputies who responded afterward found DiSario’s body on the street outside and two employees and the gunman dead inside.
“He was answering a call in Kirkersville, and he was shot and murdered as he got there. So, he didn’t even know it was coming,” Thomas DiSario said.
From NBC4 archive: Coverage of Kirkersville tragedy
Steven Eric DiSario was 38 years-old and a father of six, with a seventh on the way.
Every year, National Police Week honors those like DiSario who have lost their lives while serving the public and protecting others.
Man in his yard
On Saturday, Thomas DiSario, a disabled veteran who needs oxygen after being exposed to sarin gas during Operation Desert Storm, found a person on his property taking down the Thin Blue Line flag and the American flag that flies above it.
“I had a gentleman come in my yard, lower the flags, and [he] wiped his face on them,” DiSario said. “I, in turn, asked him to leave. He would not, and I put him out of my yard. He came back … sat on my rock, then he proceeded to get up and take the flags down again, and I stopped him and put him out of my yard.”
DiSario eventually called the Licking County Sheriff’s Office. The deputy who responded said neighbors also saw the man and helped to describe him, but the deputy was unable to locate him.
Community association letter
Then on Monday, DiSario received a letter from the Omni Community Association Managers that said the Thin Blue Line flag was a political sign and had to be removed under association rules.
“The political sign in the form of a flag must be removed from your property. The flag on your pole is not a United States Flag. It is a political statement. Please remove the flag from your property,” the letter, dated Friday, read in part.
DiSario said he is being harassed for flying a flag that’s a memorial to his fallen son.
“I spent 23 years in the military, and there’s no way shape or form that flag is being flown disrespectful at all,” he said. “It has a 4×6 American flag above it, and the police flag is a 3×5 below it. It is no bigger than the top flag.”
“It represents my son and nothing else. So I don’t know why everybody is now harassing me that I have to take it down.”
A community with rules
David Dye, president of the Omni Community Association Managers, said the man who showed up to remove the flags was not affiliated with them. He also asserted that 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,” Dye said. “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 county recorder, he said. He also explained how a flag can count as a sign.
“Sometimes signs masquerade as flags or as light displays, as examples,” Dye said. “The board has adopted this and, as a sign, we don’t get to judge what it says.
“We have had to ask people to remove a sign advertising a nativity display, as an example. It doesn’t matter whether we agree. If it’s a sign, you are not allowed to post it, according to the deed restrictions.”
The HOA tells WCMH they received a complaint about the flag, which prompted the notice sent to DiSario.
So far, DiSario’s flag continues to fly outside his home.