Illinois Flag-Burner Won’t Be Charged, Police Say

July 6, 2016 Updated: July 6, 2016

An Illinois man who was arrested after posting pictures of him holding a burning American flag was released from police custody.

Bryton Mellott, 20, won’t be charged, according to the Urbana Police Department. He posted several pictures on July 4—some of which are now deleted—which led to “significant emotional reactions to the posts,” the police department said.

“Laws dealing with questions of Constitutional rights are extremely complex. The Urbana Police Department recognizes that this is a case where the right of free speech may have been in conflict with the safety of innocent and uninvolved citizens,” the Urbana Police said in a statement.

“We respect the analysis of the State’s Attorney’s Office and their determination not to proceed with the prosecution in this matter.”

In a statement, Julia Rietz, the state’s attorney for Champaign County, said her office is “declining to file charges against Mellott as the act of burning a flag is protected free speech according to the US Supreme Court decision, Texas v. Johnson” in 1989.

An Illinois state statute had been “the basis for the decision by Urbana Police officers to arrest Mellott,” Rietz wrote. “While that statute remains in effect, it is contradictory to the US Supreme Court ruling in Texas v. Johnson.”

Mellott has been receiving death threats after pictures of the burning flag went viral on Facebook, according to the police department.

“And the last thing I want to do is make America great again. America was never great for everybody. Never,” he wrote on Facebook in a reply to a comment, in an attempt to explain his actions. “But I will try my hardest to work for a future where it is. And that starts with getting a message across. I’ve opened up a dialogue, that’s a giant step in the right direction. Even if you hate my guts, thank you for helping me take that step.”